Occurrence: Every year approximately 1 in 4 seniors report falling, 20-30% of these falls result in serious injury. The CDC has reported that 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls and that falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries. Not only are they the leading cause of injury, they are the primary etiology of accidental death from injury in persons 65 and older and account for 70% of accidental deaths in persons aged 75 and older. As a result, more than 8 million older adults require medical attention and upwards of 32,000 pass away annually as a direct result from a fall. Even worse, death rates from falls increased by about 30% in the last decade, a percentage that is expected to rise with the aging population. Subsequently, health care costs have also risen. In one year alone, healthcare costs from falls average around 50 billion dollars. Many individuals who fall, even if they do not sustain an injury, become afraid of falling. This fear of falling can cause a person to become less active resulting in weakness that only increases their risk of falling again. Fall prevention is one of the most important planning strategies for helping seniors stay safe, independent, and enjoy their lives to the fullest.

Risk factors: The American Family Physician Foundation (AAFP) states that age is a key risk factor for falls. Aside from age, physical and mental health play a role in ones overall risk for sustaining a fall. For example:

  • Visual impairments: cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and generalized issues in visual acuity, depth perception, and contrast sensitivity
  • Underlying urinary, bloodstream, and respiratory infection
  • Medical Diagnosis such as: heart disease, diabetes, neuropathy, stroke history, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis
  • Medication use: blood thinners, NSAIDS, anti-histamines, anti-psychotics, heart medications, diuretics, and sleeping aides
  • Impaired balance
  • Cognitive impairment: dementia, delirium, depression, or other reason for impaired concentration, thinking, and/or attention
  • Environmental factors 
  • Fall History: once a person falls their likelihood of falling again nearly doubles 

Tips from the experts at Better Care Home Health: Environmental modifications to the home can greatly reduce fall risks in older adults. From simple tasks like decluttering a space and improving lighting to major space renovations, a safe environment can make all the difference! 

Occupational therapists can complete functional assessments of ones performance in their daily task completion and provide insight into what measures should be implemented in order to optimize safety and independence. Removing throw rugs, installing grab bars, raising the height of toilet seats, creating workspaces to allow for energy conservation, moving frequently used items in the kitchen to cabinet shelves within reach, adjusting bed heights, adding ramps, handrails, and chair lifts can be of great benefit to improving overall safety depending on an individuals needs. 

Occasionally, renovations such as widening doorways, modifying entrances and exits, removing tubs and adding walk in shower stalls, or reworking the home to accommodate for first floor set up can allow independence for an individual who otherwise may not have had it. While this may seem costly, this one time cost could prevent a multitude of future medical bills if serious injury were to occur. With the current push to age in place comes opportunities for financial aide such as grants, low interest loans, and home refinancing. Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) can be a cost effective resource in that they consult with contractors to ensure renovations are completed in an individualized and functional manner. Whether preventative or to address current needs, understanding the aging process when completing home modifications enhances outcomes that may have otherwise just met generalized code requirements.

Maintaining ones strength is another important component of reducing falls. Staying active and engaging both physically and socially in ones environment is vital in maintaining ones health. While this can seem difficult, especially given these uncertain times during the covid-19 pandemic, social workers and case managers can provide insight as to how individuals can better access their community in a way that is comfortable for them. 

Physical therapists can be one of the biggest assets in maintaining overall physical health in order to prevent injury. Did you know that weakness in the ankle results in impaired balance, reduced functional reach, and has a direct correlation to falls. Physical therapists can assess ones overall strength, balance, and coordination. These thorough assessments allow for the provision of individualized exercise programs. When these exercise plans are carried out as per their recommendations, they can significantly reduce falls by way of maintaining strength and functional mobility! Both physical and occupational therapists can assess if durable medical equipment is needed to enhance safety with mobility and task completion. 

All in all, falls are one of the greatest health risks in the older adult population. Understanding the importance of maintaining your health, social opportunities, and active engagement with your environment plays a major roll in aging safely and independently. Being able to identify fall risks whether it be medical, physical, or environmental can allow for preventative measures to be implemented. If you feel that you may benefit from any of the aforementioned services to reduce your risk for falling, contact your medical provider. Better Care Home Health’s goal is to maximize ones health and safety in their home environment and could be of great benefit to you or your loved one!