The Fear Factor: Preventing Senior Falls

1 in 3 adults of ages 65 and older fall each year, and falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions. With statistic like these, it is easy to think that falls are a normal part of aging, but in truth, our fall risks have more to do with overlapping physical, mental, and environmental factors.

Preventing a fall can not only lead to a greater quality of life as you age, but it can actually save your life. Falls are the leading cause of death from injury of older Americans. While the fall itself may not be fatal, long stays in the hospital and rehabilitation, as well as complicated surgeries, can start a chain of events that lead to rapid decline. Almost 1 out of 10 people over the age of 50 will die within a month of surgery from a broken hip. That rises to 1 in 5 if the patient already has a medical problem, according to NPR.

Fall Factors 

Of course there are multiple factors that contribute to the increased risk of a fall:

  • Chronic Diseases: Often limit mobility and activity, increase pain, and can cause lightheadedness and dizziness.
  • Multiple Medications: Can produce side effects such as dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, etc. which can increase the risk of disorientation and falls.
  • Dementia: Symptoms of various stages and types of dementia include disorientation, changes in balance, hearing, gait, coordination, memory and a lack of judgment/ inhibition.

One of the most important factors in that gets less attention is the fear factor. With the effects of falls, it is no wonder that many seniors fear a fall. It is common for seniors to even hide minor falls to avoid arousing concern or trigger changes in lifestyle or housing. It is only natural that we are afraid of injury; it is an emotional response that helps keep us safe in many situations. However, the way that we use and respond to fear can trigger two very different cycles of behavior and outcomes.

Two Models for How We Handle Fear  

When we allow fear to drive our decisions, we tend avoid a fall through inaction. We close down, limiting the opportunities for a fall and making the body more immobile. This can cause natural atrophy of muscles and strength. By limiting movement, it is common to see seniors reduce their social activity. They are out of the house less and stop driving, limiting freedom and increasing their instability. While on the surface it may look safer to limit movement and stay at home, the majority of falls occur inside of the home while doing everyday activities of living.

The counter model is when we acknowledge our fears and take action in combating the causes of our concern. A senior who allows their goals for quality of life to make decisions will be drawn to exercise and keep the body moving and strong. They are more likely to continue to engage in community and seek support from others when transportation or other needs arise. This increased freedom also helps support an upturn in stability and balance. It’s the old adage, “move it or lose it.”

In these to cycles of emotion and behavior, we can see that fear of falling is actually dangerous and increases our risk of a fall as we age. The good news is that behaviors and activity that is often used to recover from a fall can be used to prevent a fall. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Tips for Taking Action

Taking Action on Preparedness and Prevention is a great way to tackle your fears that limit life. Here are a few tips of how you can tackle fear and prevent a fall:

  • Make sure your diet is supporting your bone and muscle health with plenty of protein, vitamin D, and calcium rich foods.
  • Annually asses your home to make sure that it is serving your needs. Pay close attention to the bathroom, kitchen, and stairwells. Small adjustments along the way can really help you age in place safely.
  • Exercise your independence by staying active. Think of it as a preventative care routine and include elements such as strength training, community, variety, balance building, accountability, and fun!
  • Regularly talk to your doctor about bone health and osteoporosis and ask how you can be partnering with your body as you age to stay strong and fall-free!
  • Make a “what if” plan in case of an emergency and prepare important documentation and contacts for quick communication.

If you or an aging loved one are concerned with the possibility of a fall or are recovering from a fall, you have Sound Options. Our in-home caregivers are able to make home a safe place to recover and age well. With their stand-by assistance with everyday living activities such as meal preparation, bathing, dressing, errands and transportation, they can help relieve fear and enable your loved one to live life with confidence. It all starts with a phone call. 800.628.7649.  

Published on September 8, 2018.