By Dave Singleton
Younger people can spring back from a fall. But for elders, taking a spill can lead to broken bones and trigger a domino effect of health problems and decline.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), every 18 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall, and more than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falls.
Since falls can be a major setback, elders—and caregivers—must stay mindful of the specific risk factors that can lead to a big spill.
Here are four key factors that contribute to falls when you're older, and what you can do to prevent them.
Household and environment hazards. "Throw rugs, jutting furniture, and grandkids' toys on floor can create household dangers for older people challenged by sight and balance," says Rebecca S. Boxer, geriatric heart failure specialist and assistant professor of medicine. "Outside the home, getting out of the car, stepping up and down from curbs, and slipping on ice are common reasons older people fall."
Smart preventive measures include:
Safeguarding homes the older person frequents—yours, theirs—by decluttering and adding handles and rails in bathrooms and on walls.
Taking time when they're traveling to ensure safe entrances and exits, as well as familiarizing seniors with new surroundings and remembering to bring canes and walkers when leaving home.
Moving too quickly. If you're standing up, make sure to wait a few seconds before moving. "Drops in blood pressure can cause falls," says Boxer. "It's best if the older person stands up and waits to regain equilibrium before moving. If the brain is working faster than the body, you may think you're ready to walk before you really are."
Another tip if you're moving after sleeping or sitting is to engage your extremities. "Pump your feet before you take a step," says Celeste Carlucci, president and founder of Fall Stop . . . MOVE STRONG.
Being distracted. In our busy world, we're used to doing several things at once. But this puts people at risk for falls. "Seniors should avoid multitasking in certain situations," says Carlucci. "For example, quickly moving to answer the telephone while doing something else or crossing the street while talking or looking around can lead to a fall. Staying focused is key to staying safe."
Lack of strength and stamina. "Muscle weakness and atrophy are a major cause of falls," says Boxer. That's why it's important to make sure the older person stays active by walking or exercising.
"Without fitness and strength, it's very difficult to prevent falls, even when you're doing all the other right things, like safeguarding the home," says Carlucci, who offers numerous videos on her website aimed at helping seniors stay active. She also recommends that elders stay conscious of their posture and how they're stepping and standing, since those can affect balance and movement.
It's also important to note that fear of falling is an issue for older people and can be debilitating in its own right. "Caregivers can address the fear and help loved ones overcome it by putting into place preventive measures like these," says Carlucci.
Dave Singleton is an award-winning writer and Caring.com author. If your loved one has had a fall, be sure to see 10 Questions to Ask An Older Adult About Falling.