Senior Living: Falling is one of the greatest risks to seniors. Do you know what to do?
By Mary Margaret Montgomery, MPT, MemorialCare director of clinical operations
Recently, I was sleeping on a blow-up mattress in the middle of the downstairs living room of my sister’s house in South Carolina. I was awakened by a weird scraping sound. Confused and groggy from jet lag, I heard an unforgettable crashing sound. It was the sound of my dad falling and hitting the floor.
My sister Tracy and I converged on my dad and assisted him up and back to bed with only a scratch on his arm. My dad, Sonny, is 95 years old, and my mom, Agnes, is 89. They have had a few falls, but fortunately, they have not sustained a significant injury. As the daughter of elderly parents and as the director of Clinical Operations of Rehab Therapies, I have seen the devastating effects of falls.
Although everyone falls at times, seniors are at particular risk. Loss of muscle mass and chronic health conditions such as diabetes can create nerve damage in legs and feet. Other deficits can make a person susceptible to falling, such as:
- Strength deficits;
- Balance deficits;
- Mobility deficits;
- Medication errors, mismanagement, and polypharmacy (using multiple drugs at the same time);
- Vision impairment;
- Cognitive impairment;
- Depression; and
- Effects of multiple comorbidities (having more than one disease or condition at the same time).
Seniors tend to be at greater risk of falls due to two major changes in our bodies as we age:
- Sarcopenia: One in three adults 60 years of age and older suffer from severe muscle loss, called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia drastically affects the strength of the legs, hips and core, all of which are critical to mobility and maintaining independence.
- Proprioception: This is your body’s ability to sense where your body is relative to other things and control of your body’s positioning. This naturally declines as we age, resulting in poor balance and stability.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in four seniors experience at least one fall every year. In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among seniors 65 years of age and older.
Falls also are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for seniors, threatening their independence, mobility and safety. One in five falls among seniors results in serious injuries, such as broken bones or head injuries. The CDC also reports that more than three million seniors receive treatment at emergency departments every year due to a fall and that 800,000 individuals are admitted to the hospital after experiencing a fall.
While the risk of falls sounds scary, it’s important to remember that the key for seniors is learning about fall prevention and ensuring that their family members and loved ones are aware of fall prevention as well. The good news is falls are preventable, especially if you take important safety measures, such as:
- Talk to your loved ones. It’s important for families to have an honest conversation about fall risks. Nobody should feel ashamed and active listening can help open dialogue. This is a good time to bring up medical devices to help alert medical professionals should a fall occur.
- Discuss current health conditions and medications. It’s important to know the effects of current health conditions and medications to be prepared for any potential fall risk.
- Have regular eye exams. If you are a senior, make sure you have regular eye exams, or if you are the child, ensure your loved ones receive regular eye exams. Make sure that glasses are at the current prescription and are being used as advised by the eye doctor.
- Do a walk-through safety assessment of the home. There are cost effective ways to make the home as safe as possible for seniors. Things to consider: Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs, and ensure lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night; make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs;and install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet.
- Stay Active.
The MemorialCare Rehabilitation Institute at Long Beach Medical Center offers a continuum of rehabilitation services provided by many of the area’s finest rehabilitation specialists, making it one of Southern California’s most respected rehabilitation centers The institute is also accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. The goal of the MemorialCare Rehabilitation Institute is to help persons with disabilities regain independence and rebuild their lives in an environment where loved ones are involved in the rehabilitation process.