Causes and Solutions: Fall Prevention For Seniors

When you were younger, tripping on shoelaces, skinning a knee while playing, or falling off of a bicycle may have left you with just scrapes and bruises. As you age though, similar trips, falls, and bumps can cause serious injury, resulting in hospital visits, major injuries, or even disability.

The body’s systems that detect balance and stability become less effective and dependable as we age. Due to this decline, fear of falling becomes a constant concern, even shifting behavior to avoid activities, exercise, and other situations where falls may occur.

The Science Behind Why Seniors Fall More Often:

Why Do Seniors Citizens Fall?

How Common Are Falls For Seniors?

Why Are Falls Dangerous For Seniors?

What Are The Most Common Injuries From Falling?

Fall Prevention Techniques For Seniors

Fall Rehabilitation For Seniors

Why Do Senior Citizens Fall?

The ability to maintain an upright position while in motion is dependent on one’s balance and gait. These allow the body to keep its proper center of gravity and optimal posture. Balance and gait rely on the brain, nervous system, sensory organs, and musculoskeletal system, all to be properly working together. With even one system functioning incorrectly, the body loses the ability to maintain position and react to kinetic imbalances.

Seniors fall due to a variety of internal and external factors, posing serious risk of injury.

  • Safety hazards within your home or community (Throw rugs, bath mats, cords, clutter, steps, pets, uneven walking surfaces, etc.)
  • Medical conditions (e.g. Diabetes, heart disease, thyroid problems, postural hypotension, nerves, feet conditions, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, etc.)
  • Prescription / Over-the-counter medication (Medications have many side effects which include dizziness, drowsiness, disorientation, etc.)
  • Weakened senses (e.g. eyesight, hearing, touch) and reflexes
  • Unsafe / improper footwear

How Common Are Falls For Seniors?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about one in four U.S. adults age 65 or older report falling each year. Each fall may not result in an injury, but 37% of those who fall required medical attention. In 2019, U.S. Emergency Department’s recorded over 3 million visits for older adults due to falling (CDC).

Why Are Falls Dangerous For Seniors?

Physiologically, as humans age, their bone density and muscle mass tend to decrease. Osteoporosis, a fairly common disease in seniors that weakens bones, slows regeneration of new bone tissue as the older bone tissue is removed. Most individuals do not realize they have osteoporosis until a bone fracture occurs. Additional medical conditions that create weakened bones include thyroid problems, intestinal disorders, Alzheimer’s and dementia, neurological disorders, low blood sugar, and low blood pressure.

Each older adult has risk factors unique to them (see risk factors above), similarly the seriousness of a fall depends on the nature of the occurrence. For seniors, one of five falls causes a serious injury such as a broken bone or a head injury. Injuries such as these, make it difficult for a person to remain independent, unable to perform the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) which include bathing, showering, dressing, sitting/standing/laying, walking, using the toilet, and eating.

What Are The Most Common Injuries From Falling?

The most common fall injuries result in head injuries, hip fractures, and broken arms/wrists. Each of these injuries can significantly reduce independence and the person’s ability to perform their ADLs, create costly hospital and medical bills, and long-term medical effects.

  • Hip Fracture – A hip fracture is a break in the top quarter of the femur bone. They occur due to sideways falls and can damage surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves. If they aren’t treated, they affect your mobility and can create medical complications. Recovery is difficult and many individuals are not able to live on their own after it occurs. The majority of hip fractures occur as the result of a fall and almost always requires surgical repair or replacement, followed by rehabilitation and therapy.
  • Head Injury – When seniors fall, they have the chance of hitting their head. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). TBIs are a head injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body or a penetrating head injury that results in disruption of normal brain function which is essential to your body. ​​Individuals may have varying degrees of symptoms based on the severity of the head injury. Learn more about the complexity of head injuries from Johns Hopkins Medicine here.
  • Broken Arms and Wrists – Broken arms are the most frequently broken bone among adults (Dignity Health). When falls occur, outstretched arms, hands, and elbows are a reflex that are meant to protect your head and body from impact. Underlying bone conditions like osteoporosis can create weaker bones and when falls occur, those bones partially or completely break.

Fall Prevention Techniques For Seniors

Preventative measures can be taken to decrease the risk of falls and the fear of falls so that individuals are able to live a happy, active life.

Participate in physical activity

Work with an exercise professional to create a fitness program that is right for you. Regular exercise improves the flexibility of your muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons, making you stronger. Additionally, it can make you less susceptible to balance or gait issues.

Focus on balance-based activities

Participating in physical activity is essential in reducing falls. Focus on balance based activities like core and lower body strengthening can improve body positioning, gait, and posture which are essential for balance.

Strengthen your bones

Ensuring that you have strong bones and muscles will not prevent falls but it can prevent the bone from breaking. A good diet is important for strong, healthy bones. If your diet is low in calcium contributes to lower bone density, and bone loss. Incorporating Calcium into your diet provides the skeleton with strength and structure while Vitamin D assists the body in absorbing Calcium. Healthy foods for strong bones include milk, oily fish (salmon, trout, tuna), cheese, dairy foods, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, okra), nuts, and bread made from fortified flour. Additionally, being in the sunshine and absorbing sunlight contributes to the body’s production of Vitamin D.

Research the side effects of medications

Each medication has a unique set of side effects when taken. Some medications can cause bones to be brittle, which increases the risk of breaking.

Choose proper footwear

Your choice of footwear influences balance and the subsequent risk of tripping, slipping, and falling. Choosing proper sized shoes with low heels and slip-resistant soles minimizes the risk of falling.

Speak with your Doctor

If you are concerned about your fall risk or health conditions, speak with your primary care provider. They can provide feedback about any concerns, gauge bone density, evaluate risk factors, assess medications, and help to create a plan to lower the risk of falls.

Fall Rehabilitation For Seniors

For individuals who have had a fall and are seeking short term rehabilitation services, Wellmore offers physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language therapy.

If you or your loved one needs post hospital rehabiliation services, call our community at the number below to speak with one of our knowledgable Lifestyle Advisors or Schedule an Appointment online.

Charleston: 843-471-2287
Lexington: 803-520-1250
Tega Cay: 704-815-7362