Fall Prevention for Seniors

Falls are the leading cause of injury among adults 65 years or older in the United States, but many falls can be prevented with simple actions to manage fall risk. Having regular and open discussions about fall risks and prevention is a key step in avoiding the long-term disability that can result from a fall.
Elderly man on the ground after a senior fall

What Increases the Senior Fall Risk?

Falls are more likely due to a combination of factors such as frailty or symptoms of a chronic condition and external factors such as poor environmental lighting. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling. Risk factors for falls include:
  • Age: As a person ages, there are reduced physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities resulting in a slower response to when a fall occurs.
  • Medical Conditions: Conditions may cause symptoms that affect balance such as low blood pressure, dizziness, weakness, pain, or changes to sensation in the feet leading to falls. These conditions include cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), type 2 diabetes, arthritis, depression, and dementia.
  • Medications: Medications may have side effects, some of which are more prone to adversely affect balance. Taking multiple medications (more than four) may also increase the risk of falls.
  • Impaired mobility and gait: Any disability of lower limbs such as weakness, orthopedic disorders, or poor sensation is associated with a lack of gait stability and balance. Poor foot care such as overgrown toenails, deformity to joints on the feet, foot ulcers, or shoes that don’t fit properly can affect walking ability.  
  • Lack of Physical Activity: Multiple studies have found that individuals who are less active tend to be more prone to falls. Lack of activity can cause muscular weakness and loss of muscle mass and strength, which worsens functional decline.
  • Poor Vision: Poor vision directly impacts fall risk. The risk may even be increased when vision is corrected with eyeglasses, specifically multifocal lenses. These lenses can impair the depth of perception and clarity of objects in the surrounding environment.
Older adult man hiking outside after senior fall prevention

Tips for Managing Falls in Seniors

Depending on how severe the fall is, results can range from a minor scrape or bruise to a bone fracture or head injury. Whatever the severity, a few general steps should be taken after an individual experiences a fall including:
  1. Remain calm. A fall can be a shocking event, immediately after it is important to stay calm and remain on the ground for a few moments to gather your thoughts and process what has occurred.
  2. Determine if an injury has occurred. Do a complete body scan to determine if you are hurt before attempting to get up. If an injury has occurred, rushing to get up can cause it to get worse or result in another fall.
  3. Crawl to a sturdy chair if you can get up without help. Slowly position yourself on your hands and knees and crawl to a sturdy chair or piece of furniture, then slowly rise and take a seat. If at any point you feel dizzy or off balance, stop, and lay down on the floor until the dizziness subsides.
  4. Sit for a few minutes and reassess your condition. Once sitting, place both feet on the floor and take a few breaths in. Do another body scan checking for dizziness, blurry vision, or pain.
  5. If an injury has occurred or you are not able to get up, then call out for assistance. If significant trauma has occurred or if a family/caregiver is unable to assist in helping you get up, call 911 and wait for emergency services to arrive. If you are alone, remain on the floor and attempt to get in a comfortable position until help arrives.

Treatment and Fall Monitoring for Seniors

Falls are treated based on the severity of the impact of the fall. If there is no apparent injury, notify your healthcare provider to discuss the cause and risk factors associated with the fall. If an injury has occurred, then it is recommended to call 911 to be urgently evaluated. Some individuals may feel embarrassed to notify their healthcare provider about falls and some providers may not routinely ask. However, it is important to bring it up for discussion so potential causes and education on fall preventive care can be addressed. The healthcare provider may suggest certain medical devices such as a wearable fall alert device, especially if the falls are recurring. Fall monitoring for seniors include the following.

Physical Activity

Stay physically active through regular exercise to strengthen bones and muscles and prevent muscle loss and weakness. If weight-bearing exercises such as walking or biking are not possible, find an exercise program that focuses on balance and postural support.

Discuss Medications

Regularly discuss medications with a healthcare provider. It is important for individuals to be familiar with what medications they are taking, why they are taking it, and common side effects. If side effects do occur, it should be reported to a healthcare provider so medication adjustments can be made. If 4 or more medications are being prescribed, discuss with a healthcare provider to determine if all medications are necessary. Do not abruptly stop medications without consulting with a healthcare provider first.

Move Slower

Change positions slowly. Rather than rushing to stand up from a laying position which can cause a drop in blood pressure, slowly change positions giving enough time for the body to adjust so the individual feels steady.

Evaluate the Home

Evaluating the home for fall risks and making small changes can significantly decrease fall risks. Some things to consider include:
- Having handrails installed and secured where stairs are located.
- Ensure all rooms have proper lighting.
- Ensure carpets are fixed to the floor and consider installing non-slip strips to areas that have tile or wood floors which can be slippery.
- Keep walkways clear and avoid using throw rugs or long extension cords which are a tripping hazard.
- Install grab bars near the toilet, tub, or shower.
- If you live alone, have multiple landline phones available such as by the bed and in the kitchen and living room making it easy to call for help if a fall does occur.

Senior Fall Prevention and Treatment at Greater Good

At Greater Good Health, we are committed to providing the highest quality care, including fall prevention in senior-focused primary care. Contact us today to find a primary care clinic near you and get started.
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