The Pandemic Has Raised the Risk of Senior Falls
September 18-24 is Falls Prevention Awareness Week. The subject is important, as the rate of falls among older adults is increasing. Florida Atlantic University (FAU) experts recently released some startling statistics:
- Every second, an older person in the U.S. suffers a fall injury.
- Every 20 minutes, an older adult dies as the result of falling—30,000 seniors each year.
- Almost one-third of people older than 65 fall each year, and one-quarter of those who fall are injured, sometimes seriously.
- Falls send 3 million seniors to the emergency room every year.
- Annually, 800,000 older adults are admitted to the hospital due to fall injuries.
The FAU team is studying ways to reduce the risk of falls—an important goal not only in Florida, home to more than 3 million seniors, but also nationwide.
A second study, this one from the University of Michigan, revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a factor in the increased fall rate. The research showed that several factors combined to raise the pandemic-era fall risk:
- Inactivity raises the risk of falls, and the pandemic has kept many seniors indoors, with fewer exercise opportunities.
- Seniors are more likely to exercise with companionship, but social distancing has meant fewer of those opportunities.
- Many of the elderly have developed a fear of falling, which in turn raises the risk of falls, as inactivity leads to physical decline.
- Fewer older adults have kept up with health care appointments to manage the many health conditions that raise the fall risk.
- In the short term and sometimes for much longer, the effects of COVID-19 can cause weakness, balance problems and confusion, all of which raise the risk of falling.
The Role of Health Conditions and Medications in a Senior Fall
COVID-19 isn’t the only illness that raises the risk of falls. Urinary tract, respiratory and bloodstream infections can cause dizziness, low blood pressure and confusion. According to emergency room doctors, a fall might even be the first indication that an elder has an infection.
Whether due to an infection or not, many health conditions raise the fall risk. For example, no matter what the cause of urinary incontinence, it is a common cause of falls. A University of Alberta study found that treating urinary incontinence lowers the risk of falls.
Other noninfectious health conditions also raise the risk. These include:
|Constipation||Sensory loss (hearing and vision)|
|Osteoporosis||Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia|
Adding to the problem, many medications that help seniors manage the above health conditions might have side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness and balance problems. A big challenge is that seniors take a lot of medications, a situation that doctors and pharmacists call “polypharmacy.” University of Michigan experts looked at the data of people on Medicare Part D (prescription drug plans) and found that these seniors take an average of 4.5 drugs—and many take 10 or more. It is important for older adults to ask their doctor or pharmacist to review all their medications, and to report any side effects they’re experiencing.
5 Ways That Seniors Can Reduce Their Fall Risk
- Get an adequate amount of exercise—and the right kind. Ask the doctor for a “prescription” for a safe, effective fall-protective exercise program, which will likely include muscle-strengthening, endurance, flexibility and balance-enhancing activities.
- Improve nutrition. Ask your doctor to recommend an eating plan that’s tailored for your health conditions, including foods that can preserve your strength and energy. Stay hydrated, but limit alcoholic beverages.
- Have hearing and vision tested. Vision problems raise the risk of falls. Hearing loss, too, makes it harder to navigate. Keep your eyeglass prescription up to date, and if you have hearing aids, use them.
- Choose the right footwear. Well-fitted, sturdy shoes with good tread reduce the risk of slipping. Around the house, wear shoes, or slippers with support and traction, instead of socks or going barefoot.
- Take a fall-prevention class. These classes train older adults to move through space in a fall-conscious way, emphasizing awareness of surroundings and planning motions ahead of time.
4 Tips To Fall-Proof the Home
Families can help older loved ones create a safer home environment by conducting a home inspection and taking these steps:
- Clear the way. Create an unobstructed path in rooms. Remove clutter and rearrange furniture. Remove items that could cause your loved one to trip, such as throw rugs and electrical cords. Help them downsize and dispose of items that aren’t needed. (Find some great downsizing tips in the Right at Home blog.)
- Place frequently used items within easy reach. If your loved one is using a chair or footstool to reach things, move frequently used items to lower shelves and drawers.
- Eliminate slippery surfaces. Clean up spills promptly, shovel stairs and sidewalks in the winter, and replace slick flooring if necessary.
- Make other safety upgrades. Install grab bars in the bathroom, a second railing on stairs, and improved lighting throughout the house. Paint the edges of stairs with a high-contrast color. Download our Aging-in-Place Guide to learn more.
It may be that these efforts are not enough. If a senior’s care needs have changed, it might be best to move to a smaller, single-story home or a senior living community. Most older adults would prefer to stay in their own homes, and in these cases, family members may need to step in and take on some care tasks.
In-Home Care Professionals Address Fall Risk
Professional in-home care is a great way to support the safety of older adults who are living independently at home. A trained professional caregiver can provide services that reduce the risk of falling. These services can include:
- Supervision and a steady hand as senior clients are active around the house or out and about.
- Transportation to health care appointments, to the pharmacy, or to visit friends.
- Eliminating dangerous conditions, such as a spill on the kitchen or bathroom floor, or items left in the hallway.
- Health reminders to help clients take medications correctly and follow their doctors’ advice.
- Assistance with household tasks that could be too much for the client, such as doing laundry when the washer and dryer are in the basement, retrieving holiday ornaments off the top shelf, or changing the cat litter box.
- Nutrition support, including going to the grocery store, creating a meal plan that meets the doctor’s recommendations, preparing meals, and keeping the client company at mealtime—an appetite booster!
- Personal care, such as bathing and dressing, and assistance with toileting and incontinence care.
Right at Home offers a FREE download of our Fall Prevention Guide, which contains specific areas of the home to watch out for. In addition, our professional in-home caregivers provide services that support the physical and emotional health and safety of senior clients. Contact your local Right at Home today and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.*
*Home care services vary by location.