Falls are the leading cause of death and injury for Americans aged 65 and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports one of every four senior citizens falls each year, with over eight million of those falls resulting in severe injuries like a broken hip or head trauma.
While a person of any age can fall and sustain an injury, older adults are at greater risk for serious injury, hospitalization, and difficult recovery. Fear of falling can make older Americans limit their activities, resulting in loss of independence, isolation, and a poor quality of life.
Risk factors for falls include those related to health and medical conditions, medication use, alcohol or drug misuse, and environmental hazards. Having two or more fall risk factors increases the likelihood of falling.
Studies have found seniors who fall once are two to three times more likely to fall again. By understanding the risk factors and proactively working to reduce those risks, older adults can continue to enjoy an active, independent lifestyle.
Fall Prevention Saves Lives and Promotes Independence
According to CDC statistics, over 32,000 older Americans die each year from a fall. The CDC also reports that each year:
- Three million seniors seek emergency treatment for a fall.
- One of every five falls results in broken bones or a head injury.
- About 300,000 older adults require hospitalization for hip fractures.
- Most hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries result from falls.
- Women fall more often than men and sustain about three-quarters of all hip fractures.
Hip fractures and other serious injuries have a devastating effect on older adults. Recovery is often long and painful, and many seniors never recover enough to regain their independence. Fall prevention education and strategies are crucial for people of all ages for these reasons and more.
Fall Prevention Programs
Research has found individuals who attend a community or physical therapy fall prevention program not only reduce their risk of falling but often lead more active, independent lives.
About 700,000 to 1,000,000 people, many of them elderly, fall in hospitals every year, according to the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. A fall prevention program combined with environmental safety design features can reduce a third to as many as half of those falls.
Mayo Clinic researchers warn only about 37 percent of elderly patients are asked about their fall history by their health care providers. Experts recommend fall risk assessment for all patients aged 65 and older.
Fall Risk Assessment
- Fall history, including the number of falls and circumstances
- Evaluation of visual, hearing, or touch impairment
- Medication review, as certain medications, or medication interactions, increase fall risk
- Timed tests to assess strength, balance, and gait
- Environmental hazards
- Proper use of assistive and adaptive devices
Physical Therapy Can Help You Prevent or Recover From a Fall
At MOTION, we frequently work with older clients to reduce their risk of a fall or help them recover from a fall they have experienced. Strength, gait, and balance training are the foundation of our fall prevention program, combined with education on keeping you and your home safe.
The MOTION fall prevention or recovery program includes:
- Pain management modalities
- Supervised exercise plan to increase strength, flexibility, and functional mobility, restore balance, improve posture and gait, and build confidence.
- Education on proper footwear and how you can minimize environmental fall or trip hazards
- How to multi-task safely, for example, how to walk while performing another cognitive or motor task
- Use of adaptive equipment or assistive devices
- How lifestyle choices impact your fall risk, including legal or illegal drug use, alcohol use, nutrition choices, sleep schedule, and more
What Can You Do to Decrease Your Risk of Falling?
While fall risk increases as you age, falls are not inevitable. You can learn to overcome or manage many of the risks associated with muscle weakness, balance problems, medication side effects, chronic health conditions, trip hazards, and alcohol use to reduce your chance of falling. Attending a fall prevention program designed by a physical therapist or community health organization is an excellent first step to learning what you can do to manage your risk factors.
Lack of activity increases the loss of muscle mass and strength, bone mass, flexibility, balance, and coordination. Insufficient quality protein and other vital nutrients also increase the loss of lean muscle mass and strength, putting you more at risk for a fall.
Studies have found seniors who engage in regular exercise reduce their risk of falling. One British meta-analysis of 88 trials found that “exercise reduced the rate of falls in community-dwelling older people by 21%.” Study participants who exercised more than three hours per week and included balance exercises in their program reduced their fall risk by almost 40 percent.
Reduce lifestyle risks
- By engaging in regular exercise for three or more hours per week, you will build strength and muscle mass, improve blood flow to your lower extremities, improve brain health, increase flexibility, and improve balance.
- Consume a nutritious diet, including sufficient vitamin D, calcium, and protein.
- Regularly engage in mental games to improve your visual perception and help retain and improve cognitive abilities.
If you are experiencing physical or mental issues that make you fearful of falling, don’t accept that there is no solution. Even if you have one or more of the following health-related fall risk factors, there are many steps you can take to minimize the risk.
- Impaired vision and depth perception make seeing steps or other trip hazards challenging.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to focus more on interpreting sounds than on gait and balance.
- Medical issues such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and others may affect strength, balance, coordination, cognitive ability, joint function, and more. Nerve damage in the feet makes it difficult to move safely.
- Medications, including OTC, can cause sleepiness, dizziness, low blood pressure, and other effects that may contribute to a fall. Taking multiple drugs or misusing drugs increases the risk of an adverse reaction.
- Hospitalizations and hip or other surgeries may cause pain, weakness, and impaired mobility.
- Depression and anxiety may limit your desire to be active and engaged socially, which can feed into a cycle of deepening depression and worsening physical condition.
Reduce health risks:
- Talk to your healthcare provider about how to manage your health condition.
- Wear eyeglasses, and use doctor-recommended low vision equipment. Use prescribed hearing aids.
- Take medications as prescribed, and report all medications you are taking to avoid medication interactions. Tell your doctor if you take non-prescribed drugs or alcohol with prescribed medications.
- Do not misuse alcohol or medications.
- Seek mental health counseling for depression or anxiety. Resources include help for substance abuse or mental health issues. Talk to your healthcare provider for resources or seek assistance through SAMHSA Recovery resources.
Most falls happen in or around your home. A fall prevention program will educate you on how poor lighting, throw rugs, clutter, loose carpet, slippery floors, lack of grab bars, and other hazards can lead to falls and how you can reduce environmental risks.
The work you do to reduce your risk of falling will benefit you in many ways. Your overall health and fitness will improve, your ability to move confidently and independently will improve, your mental health will improve, and your quality of life will increase tremendously.
Why choose MOTION for fall prevention or recovery?
Since 2015, MOTION has provided transformative physical and occupational therapy services to clients of all ages. We are committed to helping you maintain or regain your mobility and independence, reduce your risk of falls or injuries, and help you enjoy the vitality you deserve.
No matter your age, we know how important an active lifestyle is to you. We can help get you there. Contact us today to schedule an in-clinic or telehealth appointment.