Recognize Seven Fall-prevention Risk Factors

Fall-prevention can be a matter of life and death, especially for seniors. Falls are the biggest threat to our safety at home. Every year thousands of people die or are severely injured in falls around their home. Falls lead to hip fractures and other serious injuries. Many times falls result in disability and often makes it impossible for a person to continue to live independently. Falls and their consequences are the leading cause of death in people 65 years and older.

One third of the older adults who fall suffer a hip fracture. Many of those die within one year. Elders suffering from osteoporosis are the most at risk. It has been estimated that as many as twenty percent of hip fractures in the elderly are fatal and that over 50 percent of survivors never leave the nursing home. Exercise, especially weight bearing, and diet are important to protect your bones.

A fall-prevention program should also include a thorough review of your living environment to identify and eliminate as many hazards as possible. A regular home safety inspection by a certified professional should be used to eliminate hazardous conditions and mitigate risk. Look for hazards, such as rough floor surfaces, clutter, throw rugs, and poor lighting. Make simple home modifications, such as grab bars in the bathroom, a second handrail on stairs, and non-slip paint on outdoor steps.

Age is a risk factor simply because most seniors will experience problems with their eyesight, sense of balance, mobility, bone structure and reflexes. Medical conditions such as stroke, diabetes and Parkinson's disease also increase the risk of falls. However, there is a lot that we can do in fall-prevention. Know your own capabilities and weaknesses and develop counter measures. Discuss these with your physician.

Fall-prevention requires planning and developing an understanding of what causes a person to fall. Falls just don’t happen. There are several risk factors that can contribute to a fall. These risk factors include your physical condition and state of fitness as well as environmental factors. A fall is often the result of an accumulation of these factors. Staying alert to hazards, both at home and away, is a huge way to avoid accidents of any kind including falls.

Avoid seven risk factors for fall-prevention

  • Muscular changes and weakening of the bones. Such changes can make movement difficult and make tougher to adjust to a sudden loss of balance. Good nutrition and weight bearing exercises can help to prevent atrophy of our muscles and weakening to the bones. Walking is a very important exercise to help strengthen our legs and improve our balance. It is also great for improving our cardiovascular health.
  • Vision changes. Healthy eyes are essential in fall prevention. As we age we may experience a decrease in depth perception making it difficult to perceive changes in elevation as in walking down a ramp or steps. Bifocal glasses can often have the same result. We may have more difficulty adjusting to varying levels of light and become more sensitive to glare. A good tip is to just slow down, be careful and think about where you are and not where you are going. Think about each step.
  • Balance problems. Our reflexes slow as we get older. Recognizing this and making adjustments in our thinking about how we do things such as being more deliberate and careful when navigating stairs can help prevent falls. Balance can also be an indication of a more serious problem and should be discussed with your personal physician. Exercising our legs by walking and getting up out of a chair without using our arms can help to improve balance. Some studies have demonstrated that yoga improves balance.
  • Cardiovascular Problems or a drop in blood pressure can cause a sudden loss of blood to the brain resulting in fainting, which causes a fall. Fainting tends to be preceded by paleness, nausea, and sweating and then by deeper and more rapid breathing, and a rapid heartbeat. The faint can be prompted by fear, anxiety, or pain. Overcoming anxiety can be a good fall-prevention measure. Cardiovascular problems are serious issues requiring professional medical intervention. The involvement of you and your physician in blood pressure control is necessary for longevity and for quality of life.
  • Some medications can affect your balance and some can increase the risk of fainting. Many drugs affect judgment, coordination, and slow reflexes. Be sure to discuss side effects on every prescription with your physician and pharmacist. We should be very cautious about any medication and be sure to know what the side effects are for each one. If you have to take a medication that impairs functioning you should avoid any activity that needs your full functioning balance and judgment. If you are taking any of the following medications and are experiencing dizziness, light headedness, or your walking or balance is affected talk to your doctor about lowering the dose or changing the medication. These medications would include: antidepressants, antipsychotics, blood pressure-lowering medications and sleep medications.
  • Stress and depression can be serious distractions making us less alert to environmental hazards. Managing stress is important for many reasons and can help in fall-prevention. Recognizing depression in ourselves or others can also be an important part of our fall-prevention effort.
  • Chronic diseases. A fall or falls can be an initial symptom of a chronic disease requiring professional medical intervention. React to the warning and get in to see your doctor. Chronic conditions such as stroke, diabetes and Parkinson's disease increase the risk for falls.

For references and suggested reading go to retirement resources.

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