Did you know that 1 in 4 older Americans falls every year?
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active. The good news is that falls can be prevented.
What can family physicians do to prevent falls?
Physicians play an important role in identifying and managing older patients’ fall risk. The CDC created the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries (STEADI) initiative to assist physicians in preventing falls. STEADI includes three core elements: screen patients to identify their fall risk, assess patients’ modifiable fall risk factors, and intervene to reduce fall risk by using effective clinical and community-based strategies. Combined, these elements can have a substantial impact on reducing falls, improving health outcomes, and reducing health care expenditures.
Shawnee Alliance and Shawnee Health Care are working together to implement STEADI at Shawnee Health Care health centers and in the homes of our older patients. We are committed to keeping our older adults and clients with disabilities safe in their home.
What can you do to protect your older loved one from a fall?
1. Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe.
Ask your older loved one if they’re concerned about falling. Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt—even if they’ve already fallen in the past. If they’re concerned about falling, dizziness, or balance, suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider who can assess their personal risk and suggest programs or services that could help.
2. Discuss their current health conditions.
Find out if your older loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications—or are they experiencing side effects? Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily? Are hearing and vision changes becoming problematic?
3. Ask about their last eye checkup.
If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor. Bifocals also can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious. For those already struggling with low vision, consult with a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of their eyesight.
4. Notice if they’re holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking or if they appear to have difficulty walking or arising from a chair.
These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist. A trained physical therapist can help your older loved one improve their balance, strength, and gait through exercise. They might also suggest a cane or walker—and provide guidance on how to use these aids.
5. Talk about their medications.
If your older loved one is having a hard time keeping track of medicines or is experiencing side effects, encourage them to discuss their concerns with their doctor and pharmacist. Suggest that they have their medications reviewed each time they get a new prescription. Also, beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids—including painkillers with “PM” in their names. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness.
6. Do a walk-through safety assessment of their home.
- Lighting – Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs. Ensure that lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night.
- Stairs – Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.
- Bathrooms – Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. Make sure they’re installed where your older loved one would actually use them. For even greater safety, consider using a shower chair and hand-held shower.