Many older people are afraid of falling, breaking a bone and losing their independence as a result. While this is an understandable response, going out less for fear of falling can have the opposite effect. People who stop being physically active might even have a higher risk of falling than someone who is out and about a lot.
It's important to notice hazards in everyday life and look for a way to remedy them. A suitable exercise program can help to keep you active and prevent falls. The particular measures that can benefit older people depend mostly on their individual health.
Causes and risk factors
Falls can be caused by obstacles and hazards around the home or in the surrounding area. Examples include the protruding edges of carpets and baseboards, lose cables, smooth floors and slippery bathmats. Going to the bathroom at night in socks can also be risky on smooth parquet flooring.
Apart from that, falls sometimes have to do with particular health problems. Examples are vision problems, occasional circulatory problems or dizziness caused by too low or too high blood pressure, and conditions that affect the sense of balance. Some medications can also affect your attention and reflexes, leading to falls. These mostly include certain types of tranquilizers and psychotropic drugs. Interactions between different drugs can also increase the risk of falling.
People who have already had one fall are at a higher risk of falling again. There are ways of reducing the risk though.
About 30 out of every 100 men and women over the age of 65 are estimated to have a fall once a year. The rate in people who live in nursing homes or residential care is higher than that in people living in their own homes. In any case, the vast majority of falls end up being quite minor, even for people over the age of 65, and do not lead to any serious health problems.
Sometimes a fall will result in a bruise or scrape. Fewer than 1 in 10 falls causes a broken bone. If a bone does break, it's typically the forearm that is affected.
Hip or thigh fractures can also cause serious complications and restrict activities. They can also make longer hospital stays necessary. Falls with serious consequences increase the risk of requiring nursing care, especially in older people.
Some of the measures you can take to avoid falls are relatively simple. For example, you can go through your home to check for hazards and then take care of them or have someone do it for you. What else might be a good idea depends a lot on an older person's individual circumstances and health. These additional measures might include exercise programs, walking aids, treatment of specific health problems, a new pair of glasses, or discontinuing the use of medication.
Although there is so much advice available on avoiding falls, it's important not to become too frightened in everyday life. Like we mentioned before, most falls don't cause serious injury.
Staying active can help prevent falls. It's important especially for older people to stay physically active and mobile – which can also help to be as independent as possible.
Cameron ID, Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, Murray GR, Hill KD, Cumming RG et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people in care facilities and hospitals. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; (12): CD005465.
Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, Gillespie WJ, Sherrington C, Gates S, Clemson LM et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; (9): CD007146.
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