One of the most common injuries, across all age groups, are slip and falls. Of course, those that are most vulnerable to episodes like these are our seniors. As we are reminded of this each year on September 22nd, Fall Prevention Awareness Day, we want to help you and your loved ones minimize the likelihood of sustaining a fall that could be seriously threatening to your health. It sounds like something you can’t really prevent, but there are actually a number of things you can do to help mitigate the risk.
What Causes Falling Episodes?
Falling, unfortunately, is a fairly normal part of the aging process. It’s sometimes caused by experiencing physical and cognitive changes that are a natural part of aging. You may find that walking, particularly over long distances, becomes more challenging for seniors. Everyday tasks, like dressing and bathing, may also become more difficult. And of course, their memory may not be as sharp as it once was, which can make it more challenging to do what once came easily.
In other cases, falling episodes are the result of a health event. This can include stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low vision, lymphedema (swelling of the arms and legs that results in fluid retention), post-surgical joint replacement or simply pain. All contributing toward the challenge of doing something as simple as walking.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) lists five primary causes of falls:
- Balance and gait: Aging causes the loss of some coordination, flexibility, and balance— primarily through inactivity, which makes it easier to fall.
- Vision: As we age, less light reaches the retina—making contrasting edges, tripping hazards, and obstacles harder to see.
- Medications: Certain prescriptions and even over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall.
- Environment: If you’ve lived in your home for a long time, you may not have made simple modifications that might keep the home safer as you age.
- Chronic conditions: Chronic conditions, like diabetes, stroke, or arthritis, can increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or multiple medications.
The good news is that the NCOA also reports that most falls can be prevented.
Falling and Colder Weather
As Autumn begins, the colder weather coming on can present special challenges for anyone who is prone to falling episodes. The daylight is retreating causing lower visibility in the evenings, temperatures are getting colder, trees are dropping leaves that can leave walkways slippery, and come winter, snow and ice can obviously exacerbate the problem.
There are various strategies you can implement to minimize the likelihood of colder weather causing you to fall:
- Minimize going outdoors during the coldest winter months, particularly if there is ice and snow on the ground.
- If your loved one has to go outside, avoid going after dark as much as possible.
- Go outside using the “buddy system” – never go outside without a partner.
- Wear appropriate footwear. Avoid smooth bottom shoes, and favor traction souled boots or even sneakers.
- Even if they don’t normally use one, encourage your loved one to consider the use of a cane or a walker when they go outside.
None of these strategies will guarantee that a fall never occurs, but they can reduce the chance considerably.
If You Experience Falling There is Help
If your loved one is experiencing falling episodes, you can get help preventing or minimizing future falls. That help can come from rehabilitation services, or trained therapists can help your loved one and you gain greater independence by providing individualized care that will focus on their personal needs.
Some of the therapies that are available include:
Physical Therapy. This is a type of therapy that helps patients to regain their strength as well as balance. Therapeutic exercise programs can help to increase strength, muscle function, coordination, endurance and mobility. This will help to prevent falls and increase range of motion. It may even help to decrease pain, if that’s an issue. Physical therapy is often necessary if a fall is experienced, an injury is sustained, or if someone is recovering from surgery.
Occupational Therapy. The word “occupational” conjures up thoughts of work, but when it comes to therapy this is more about helping the patient to safely and independently perform activities of daily living. This can include cooking, bathing and dressing. Therapies are developed to help your loved one to adapt to activities, or even modify their environment to make various tasks easier and safer to perform.
Occupational Therapy can include sensorimotor treatments for strength, endurance, range of motion, coordination, and balance. It could also include therapeutic activities for memory, orientation, and cognitive integration in the performance of daily life tasks.
Other therapies, such as respiratory therapy, are also available. They can be included in the treatment regimen if either is determined to contribute to falling events.
In some cases, falls may be caused by an underlying medical condition that can be corrected by a healthcare professional. For example, if vision is a problem, more appropriate corrective eyewear may be necessary. And since in many cases falling is the result of reactions to medications, reviewing those medications with a doctor may eliminate the cause.
Rehab Services at The Kensington Falls Church
If your loved one is a Kensington resident, or your investigating having them reside with us, know that The Kensington’s full, continuum of care is always focused on helping our residents maintain the highest level of independence possible, safely. Whether onsite or through our network of expert partners, every Kensington resident receives the very best in rehabilitative care, therapies, and treatments. Those services would include, but not necessarily be limited to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, respiratory therapy, and other wellness services.
Services are tailored to meet the needs of each person, including those with complex clinical diagnoses. One of our specific programs includes fall risk management.
If you or a loved one experiences a fall, or you’re concerned that it may happen, contact our in-house rehab services and arrange a consultation. Or simply ask one of our staff members to help you get connected.