What Causes Falls in Seniors?

“One in every three adults ages 65 or older falls and 2 million are treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries”, according to the CDC. So, what exactly is behind this dramatic increase in falls and fall-related injuries? Understanding the big contributors to fall risks can help seniors and their loved ones nip the problem in the bud.

Chronic Diseases: 50% of all adults have at least one chronic disease. 92% of older adults have at least one chronic condition. 77% of them have at least two. One in three has activity limitation associated with those conditions, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the symptoms of chronic conditions become fall risks later in life such as:  

  • Arthritis: increased pain and decreased mobility
  • Obesity: decreased mobility and sedentary lifestyle
  • Hypertension: lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Diabetes: peripheral neuropathy and retinopathy

Managing a chronic illness well and taking lifestyle actions to prevent further disease, not only helps seniors have a higher quality of life, but it decreases the risk of further medical treatment due to falls and injuries.

Medications: Particularly when seniors are on multiple medications, side effects interact with one another often causing dizziness and other reactions that increase the risk of a fall. Given the prominence of chronic disease, reporting symptoms and medication side effects immediately to your doctor is crucial.  

Dementia: There are many forms of dementia and each impacts the brain in a unique way. Because of the role of the brain any kind of brain disease causes a wide range of complications increasing fall risks such as: 

  • Disorientation
  • Changes in vision, gait , mobility
  • Changes in hearing & balance
  • Loss of coordination & motor control
  • No memory of present condition/ mobility limits
  • Difficult behaviors such as wandering & agitation
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty problem solving & adapting to new environments
  • Hallucinations/ delusions
  • Lack of judgment, inhibition 

Proper memory care for someone with dementia is a key component to helping them age in place safely. They will need professional assistance and family attention to build a safety net and prevent a fall on their behalf.

Vision Changes: Normal decline in eyesight and abnormalities such as cataracts can cause issues with depth perception, awareness of surroundings, lost periphery vision, etc. Regular optical reviews should be scheduled to catch changes in eyesight before they put seniors at risk.

Home: Over 50% of all falls takes place at home. Simple modifications to the home can help seniors age in place safely. Fall risks to watch out for include: 

  • Loose rugs
  • Poor access to tub/shower
  • Slippery surfaces in shower area and floor
  • Weakness sitting or standing
  • Everyday items stored too high out of reach
  • Pathways blocked with clutter or too much furniture
  • Lack of lighting or railing in stairwells
  • Crumbling stairs or entryways in disrepair

Loss of Strength and Balance: We are all familiar with the term, “Move it or lose it”. This is especially true when it comes to the factors that control our stability such as muscle strength, flexibility, and balance. Regular exercise including weight bearing, cardio, and stretching activities help aging adults actively maintain the physical faculties that we take for granted every day. Check out our article, “Prehab: Moving Your Body Before the Fall” to find activity tips to get you moving and connected to a community.” 

Fear of Falling: While it may seem strange, the fear of falling can actually put seniors at greater risk of actually falling. Fear fosters a sedentary lifestyle and isolation within the home, which can create muscle atrophy. When seniors are able to manage their fear and seek to avoid a fall through physical activity and social engagement they are much more effective in reaching their goals. 

If your loved one is at risk of a fall, we can increase their quality of life and safety within the home. Professional caregivers are able to provide standby assistance during activities of daily living and greatly reduce the risk of a fall at home. Give us a call today at 800.629.7649.     

Published on September 10, 2014.