My awareness has recently been raised about a public health care concern regarding our senior population and their risk of falling. More than 1/3 of people over 65, fall every year.
Falls are linked to fractures and are associated with increased injuries both physically and emotionally. There are usually financial costs and maybe even early death. In 2010, there was a comprehensive review of all the literature on fall prevention. They found that people between 65-80 years old have a 30% risk of falling and people 80 years and older have a 50% risk. These falls are leading cause of accidental death in this population.
Ask yourself (or your loved ones) 3 questions and answer honestly.
- Have you fallen in the past?
- Do you feel unsteady when you’re walking?
- Do you worry about falling?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should talk with your healthcare provider and have your fall risk assessed. If your loved ones answered yes, encourage them to talk to their doctor. There are several screening tests that can be performed to asses one’s risk of falling.
Because of the burdens people might face due to a fall, we started a fall prevention program in 2017 to help avoid these traumatic events. While we can’t prevent all traumas, we can help to reduce the risks.
This week’s blog is dedicated to falls and some ways to avoid them.
- Home design: it is important to take a fresh look at your home. Is it safe? Some risk factors that can lead to falls in the home are: absent or loose handrails, wet floors from pet water bowls, lack of safety bars in the bathroom, poor lighting, uneven surfaces, area rugs, clutter, using step ladders to reach something on a shelf, and more. If your home has any of the following then your risk for falls may be increased. Steps that you can take to prevent falls at home include having grab bars in the shower and near the toilet installed, tightening up handrails, using timers to automatically adjust the lights, getting rid of area rugs, using a spill proof water dish for your pets, and decluttering your home. These are just a handful of ways to secure your home and make you less vulnerable to injuries due to falls.
- Previous falls: having a prior fall is one of the greatest risks for another fall. It leads to a fear of falling which creates a downward spiral. This person may stop doing errands or activities because he or she is worried about falling again. This leads to inactivity and a faster decline in muscle strength.
- Vitamin D Insufficiency: Seniors are more prone to vitamin D deficiency – skin less efficient in producing vitamin D and they tend to spend less time outdoors. The International Osteoporosis Foundation recommends vitamin D supplementation between 800 to 1000 IU/day for falls and fracture prevention in adults aged 60 and older. This is a cost effective way to help prevent falls in seniors. Studies have shown that vitamin D can reduce the risk. Signs of vitamin D deficiency include: getting sick often (interacts with immune cells that fight infection), chronic fatigue (studies show patients have low vitamin D), chronic pain (low levels contributing factor to leg pain, ribs or joints), depression (low levels linked with seasonal affective disorder), impaired wound healing (new studies link vitamin D to new skin growth and is showing to help controlling inflammation), bone loss: (absorbs bone loss), muscle pain (low levels can be linked to increased sensitivity to pain cell being stimulated. Make sure you get your vitamin D levels checked. It is a simple blood test ordered by your doctor.
- Poor Balance: Poor balance occurs when different disease like neuropathy affects our receptors in our feet, when eye diseases like cataracts and glaucoma affect our vision and when we develop poor posture. Therefore, good balance is dependent on posture, muscle strength, joint mobility, healthy feet, and healthy eyes. Inactive lifestyles and painful arthritis can compromise strength, mobility, posture, and foot support. Balance control also depends on healthy brain and nervous system functions. As we age, brain processing slows down, which results in slower balance responses. The brain needs to process and interpret sensory information, then select and respond with appropriate balance strategies. While we can’t prevent aging, we can keep our brains and bodies as healthy as they can be with corrective care chiropractic, exercise, good nutrition, “brain games” and adequate rest.
- Learn more about your medications: Some prescriptions medications may have side effects that can increase a person’s risk for falls. These medications include: antidepressants, anticonvulsants, blood pressure medication, muscle relaxants, pain medications, sleeping pills, and nitroglycerin. If you or someone you know is prescribed any kind of medication listed above, then they may be at a higher risk for falls. These medications are known to have some side effects that can lead to dizziness, fatigue, weakness, and more. Do NOT stop any medications on your own but rather talk to your doctor about the side effects of the medications you are taking and ask if they are increasing your risk of falling.
- Stand up slowly: have you ever experienced a sudden wave of dizziness when you stand up abruptly? This is most likely a condition called orthostatic hypotension, or postural hypotension. It is a condition that occurs when a person goes from a seated or lying down position abruptly to a standing one, which causes their blood pressure to significantly drop momentarily. This sudden wave of dizziness can easily lead to a fall. So next time you find yourself leaving a lying or sitting position, rest at the edge of the bed for a few moments and then stand up. This will help reduce your risk for falling from getting up too fast.
- Have your eyes checked: poor vision is another common cause of falls. Seniors with visual disturbances are almost twice as likely to fall. Different conditions like diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma, and old glasses all affect vision. Adequate lighting and current eye exams are needed as we age.
The best medicine is always prevention. Hopefully this blog will help prevent someone from falling and getting injured.