Falls are the leading cause of injury among people 65 and older every year. In addition to the risk of physical injury, falls can also make older adults fearful or depressed, making it harder to stay active and healthy.
Understanding the factors that contribute to the risk of falls, and how to get assistance, is an important way to help your loved ones, whether a spouse, neighbor or friend, stay active and independent for as long as possible.
Sandra Fox, senior physical therapist at Tidelands Health Neurological Rehabilitation Center, says myriad physical and emotional factors can increase someone’s risk of falling.
“You must look at muscle weakness or determine if they have a problem with balance. Are they unsteady? Are they reaching for walls as they walk around?” says Fox. “Do they have a visual deficit caused by glaucoma or macular degeneration?”
Fox says after one fall, people are more at risk of subsequent falls.
“Once someone has fallen, they tend to move around less, and they may lose flexibility and strength,” she says. “Many times, they lose confidence and walk with more hesitation, which also increases the fall risk.”
Uncontrolled blood pressure – or the medications people take to manage blood pressure – can also sometimes cause people to fall, Fox says. Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and stroke are also risk factors for falls.
Other fall risks include:
- Vestibular balance disorder
- Postural hypotension (a sudden decrease in pressure that occurs when you stand up after sitting or lying down)
- Psychoactive medications
- Home hazards like dim lighting, obstacles and a lack of grab bars or handrails
Fox says if you feel your loved one is at risk for a fall, it’s important to be proactive in seeking help. However, some people are resistant to the idea of getting help, such as participating in physical therapy. In such cases, patience and persistence are key, she says.
“In my experience, it doesn’t help to force your opinion on a loved one,” Fox says.
Instead, look at it from your loved one’s perspective, she says. Does he or she truly believe they don’t have a problem? Or is your loved one afraid of losing independence?”
Fox says a great first step in getting help is to encourage your loved one to participate in a falls risk assessment, which is used to evaluate a person’s risk of falling. Explain that it’s just a precautionary measure – no different than buying an insurance policy or wearing your seat belt.
“Sometimes, people are more willing to go along with an assessment when viewed from that perspective,” she says.
For many people, physical therapy is a great way to combat the risk of falling, she says. Even if your loved one is not willing to participate, meeting with a physical therapist for a consultation can help family members gather information they can use to help protect a loved one at home.
“You can learn how to make changes within your home to help eliminate risks, and we can certainly give handouts of exercises,” she says.
Where to get help
The team at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services can offer assistance with falls prevention. Call 1-866-TIDELANDS to find a location that’s convenient for you or your loved one.