Preventing Falls

Preventing Falls | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Did you know that falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults? As a result, Fall Prevention Month is recognized every November in effort to encourage Canadians and different organizations across the country to not only coordinate fall prevention efforts, but also share information on fall prevention that has been backed by evidence.

When it comes to falls, seniors tend to be the most at risk and can spend as long as 2 weeks in hospital in order to recover – sometimes even requiring long-term inpatient care at a facility. This can cause one to feel as though they are no longer able to be dependent, which can potentially lead to depression. Suffering a fall also increases the risk of suffering from more falls in the future, and a fall can cause everything from minor strains, sprains, and even broken bones.

There are a number of reasons why older individuals are more likely to fall. A fall could be the result of certain medications or chronic health conditions that are known to cause dizziness (such as low blood pressure, heart disease, and even dementia), visual impairments, muscle weakness, as well ear problems that affect balance. Or, they can simply be the result of having too much clutter around, making it much more easier to trip over things, as well as dark or unclear stairs and walkways (such as from snow, ice, or leaves), floors with carpeting that isn’t properly secure, dim lighting, and even reaching for items in cupboards and high storage areas. It’s also common to fall from ladders – though this tends to be more common in men and those who work in fields such as construction. The risk of suffering a broken bone increases in individuals with a condition known as osteoporosis – something Dr. Ghahary recently wrote about here.

To prevent falls, there are some simple everyday measures that a person can make at home. For example, make sure bathroom mats are non-slip, removing any clutter, mopping up any spills, asking for help moving or lifting items that may be too heavy, and ensuring your home, staircases, outdoor pathways and overall darker areas are well-lit. If you think a medication you’re taking may be contributing to your falls, it’s important to mention this to your family physician as well as point out any other side effects you might be experiencing. If you’re having vision problems that are affecting your balance, you should also address this with your physician in addition to an optometrist. Something else Dr. Ghahary recommends to prevent falls is strength and balance training, which can be quite beneficial for older adults. Examples include walking heel to toe, leg raises, calf stretches, and wall push-ups. You can find more techniques by visiting lifeline.ca.

If you live alone and have suffered a fall, you might feel shaken, which is normal as it can be a terrifying experience. Try to stay as calm as possible before moving, and ensure you’re not seriously hurt before getting up slowly (it also helps to look for a stable piece of furniture to hang onto when getting up as a way to support yourself – but make sure you’re not supporting yourself on anything heavy or loose, as that item could potentially fall on you and cause further damage.) For seniors who live alone, try to get someone’s attention. It can also be beneficial to have a medic alert alarm (or something similar) in the event that you do suffer a fall and are unable to get up on your own or get the attention of others. When waiting for help to arrive, try to avoid moving and putting weight onto the areas of your body that you think are affected by the fall. You can, however, slightly change your position to one that is comfortable for you if you are able to do so.

How long it takes to heal from a fall depends on how severe the fall was, and which area of the body was affected. It can take longer for elderly patients to heal from falls given their age and fragility (i.e. weakened muscles and bone strength), so it’s important to keep that in mind. To reduce pain associated with minor falls, physicians will often recommend a combination of things – such as anti-inflammatory medications, as well as alternating between hot and cold. Patients can also benefit from physiotherapy to help them regain mobility and reduce pain.