Preventing Falls

Preventing Falls

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PREVENTING FALLS IN THE ELDERLY

Maintaining your health as you age can be a challenge. But there is a major item you can work on that doesn’t take much effort…preventing falls. Falls can be a significant cause of decline because of the high risk of injuries, such as fractures, lacerations, and head trauma. “Twenty to thirty percent of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries. These injuries can make it hard to get around and increase the risk of early death.” (CDC, 2012). Almost a quarter of elderly people (65 & over) who suffer a hip fracture will die within 6 months of the injury. “In 2008, over 19,700 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries.” (CDC, 2012). Even if an individual is not injured in a fall they can develop a fear of falling, causing them to restrict their activities. This can result in decreased mobility and less exercise, which can further increase the chance of falling.

The chances of falling increase with age. “The rate of fall injuries for adults 85 and over was almost four times that for adults 65 to 74.3” (CDC, 2012). Older women fall at twice the rate of men, but men are 46% more likely to die from a fall. Impaired vision and hearing can add to the likely hood of falling. Depth perception and peripheral vision may be declining. Lack of exercise “results in poor muscle tone, decreased strength, and loss of bone mass and flexibility”. (Barber, 2005).  A history of falls increases your chance of another incident. Two thirds who fall will fall again in six months. Also using an assistive device (walker, cane) can sometimes be a hindrance if not used
properly.

Medications can be major risk factor of falling. Side effects can reduce mental acuity and alertness.  Medications for blood pressure and heart rhythms can dramatically change your blood pressure causing dizziness, especially when changing positions, i.e. laying to sitting and sitting to standing. If you are taking more than four medications, the threat of falling increases. Drug interactions can also lead to symptoms.

Yet prevention does not take much hard work. Be aware of your body position at all times…move carefully and with concentrated effort, i.e. turning, sitting, etc.. Change positions slowly and allow your body to adjust before moving on. Many, many individuals have fallen rushing to get the phone or going to the bathroom!

Keep your home free of clutter. If something is out of place, there is a good chance you will trip over it. Keep extension cords and phone cords out of the way. Avoid rugs-if needed, use nonskid rugs. Use contrasting colors in decorating to distinguish uneven surfaces. Remove door thresholds if possible. Arrange furniture so that they are not in the way of walking areas and you can maneuver around them easily. Use nightlights in the hallway, bedroom, bathroom, and stairways.

Install grab bars around the tub and toilet. Don’t use a towel rack …it’s not strong enough to hold your weight. Put a non-skid rug in front of the tub/shower… don’t use a towel. Use a toilet riser, with bars, if needed. Use a nonskid mat in the tub. Get a shower chair. Install a handheld shower head.

In the kitchen, keep items within easy reach so you don’t have to climb or bend to get them. Place a non-skid rug in front of the kitchen sink. Do not wax your floors.

Keep a lamp at your bedside. A touch lamp is great. Keep a night light on. A telephone should be within easy reach. Use a chair to sit and dress. Make sure the height of the bed is adjusted so that you can get in and out easily.

Keep the outside of your home clutter-free. Install handrails around stairs if needed. Fix cracks in sidewalks and driveways. Keep walking areas free of ice and snow.

Take care of yourself. Exercise regularly and stay active to strengthen muscles and improve your sense of balance. Have regular eye exams to maintain your vision and correct any problems. Wear the glasses prescribed for you and keep them clean. Wear proper fitting shoes with non-skid soles. Treat foot pain, calluses, and corns. Keep toenails trimmed.

If you think a medication is making you dizzy or drowsy talk to your physician about possible changes. Make sure your doctor knows ALL medications you are taking, including over the counter, such as vitamins, ibuprofen, etc. Limit your alcohol intake as this can cause unintended side effects with your medications. If you do have a fall talk with your physician, so through work-up can be done.

If you are supposed to use a walker or cane, USE IT all the time. Keep up the maintenance of your equipment. Learn the correct way to use it. Ask for a physical therapy consult if needed.

A fall can be a major set-back in an elderly person’s life, but with a few environmental changes and consistent health maintenance it can be avoided.

Here is website that has a very handy checklist: http://assets.aarp.org/external_sites/caregiving/checklists/checklist_preventFalls.html

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