Fall prevention among older adults
Easy fixes can save lives
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalization and death among older Ohioans. An estimated 13.7 percent of Ohio citizens are 65 years of age or older, yet they account for more than 80 percent of fatal falls, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Nationally, one in three adults 65 and older falls each year. Of those who fall, 20 to 30 percent suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard for them to get around or live independently and increase their chances of early death. Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes.
The risk of being seriously injured in a fall increases with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In 2001, the rates of fall injuries for adults 85 and older were four to five times that of adults 65 to 74. Falling, and the fear of falling, also can lead to depression and hopelessness, loss of mobility and loss of functional independence, as well as physical injury.
There can be many different causes of falls for older adults. Eyesight, hearing, muscles and reflexes might grow weaker with age. Diabetes, heart disease, or problems with the thyroid, nerves or blood vessels can affect an older adult's balance. Some medicines can cause dizziness. Osteoporosis makes bones weak and more likely to break easily, meaning even a minor fall might be dangerous.
An older adult's environment can also contribute to the danger of falling. About half of all falls happen at home, often due to hazards that are easy to fix. To help an older adult avoiding falling, you can:
- Remove things someone could trip over, like papers, books, clothes and shoes, from stairs and walkways, and move furniture so there is a clear path through rooms.
- Coil or tape cords and wires next to the wall and out of the way. If needed, have an electrician put in another outlet.
- Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping.
- Keep often-used kitchen items in cabinets an older adult can reach easily, without using a step stool.
- Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower and use non-slip mats or self-stick strips on the bathtub and shower floors.
- Improve home lighting and replace all burnt out light bulbs. Install night lights to help someone who is walking in the dark.
- Have handrails put in on all staircases and fix any loose or uneven steps. Make sure the carpet is firmly attached to every step, or remove the carpet and attach non-slip rubber treads to the stairs. Paint a contrasting color on the top edge of all steps to make them more visible.
- Encourage an older adult to wear shoes both inside and outside the house, and avoid going barefoot or wearing slippers.
In various parts of Ohio, the evidence-based wellness program, A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns about Falls, can help older adults see falls as preventable. Through eight, two-hour group sessions, seniors learn to set realistic goals for activity, master strength and balance exercises and discover how to change their environments to reduce risk.
Call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678 to find available programs to help an older adult combat falls in the home.
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