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Happy National Fall Prevention Awareness Week 2020!

September 24, 2020
by Jessica Clark, MS, PES, SFS Wellness Director, Rockwood South Hill

Happy National Fall Prevention Awareness Week 2020!

Did you know, every 11-14 seconds an older adult is seen in an emergency department or at an urgent care facility for a fall-related injury? That’s over 3.2 million emergency department or urgent care visits annually. Of those 3.2 million visits, approximately 900,000 resulted in hospitalizations and roughly 29,000 deaths. For you fiscally concerned folks, these falls cost the United States $50 billion per year in medical-related expenses. Furthermore, the indirect costs of these falls, such as physical disabilities, loss of independence, home modifications, and loss of income, surely pose an economic burden on individuals and their families.

Falling is not a normal part of aging. Yes, it’s true that as we age we become more susceptible to falling. But do falls necessarily have to happen? The answer is absolutely not.

This week is Fall Prevention Awareness Week, during which fall coalitions on nationwide, statewide, and regional levels, health care professionals, and senior living communities and care agencies around the nation raise awareness about the seriousness of falls amongst older adults. The spotlight surrounding this annual campaign is educating older adults and their families on how the risk of falling can be reduced. While we may not be able to hold our yearly in-person lectures on this issue, I’d like to provide you with some of the most common risk factors leading to falls and share what you can do to mitigate them.

There are three different categories of risk factors leading to falls. Those categories are intrinsic (meaning internal), environmental (your living space and surroundings), and situational/extrinsic (things you do or activities you participate in). It is important to note, however, that most falls are actually multifactorial. Of all of these risk factors, the easiest to reduce or eliminate are situational/extrinsic and falls sustained because of these often happen to more active, daring individuals. Let’s discuss some risk factors in each category!

Intrinsic Risk Factors:

  • Mobility impairments with activities of daily living
  • Prior history of falls
  • Reduced physical activity level / being a sedentary individual
  • Medical conditions
  • Impaired vision
  • Slow walking speed
  • Medications for blood pressure and diabetes management, antidepressants and benzodiazepines
  • Mental status

Environmental Risk Factors:

  • Poor stairway/entry design
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Clutter such as electrical cords, books and piles of paper on the floor
  • Slippery floors
  • Unsecured rugs and mats
  • Lack of nonskid surfaces in bathtubs
  • Poorly fitting footwear

Situational/Extrinsic Risk Factors:

  • Ladder or countertop climbing
  • Exercise and sport participation
  • Hurrying or running to get to where you’re going

Now that we’ve outlined some risk factors, let’s discuss some proven fall prevention strategies you can implement to minimize and hopefully even eliminate your risk of falling. Obviously, it goes without saying that you should make sure the floors in your living space are free of hazards you could trip over. Keep electrical cords tucked away and secure, and get rid of throw rugs lying around. If any of your entryways have an elevated “lip” that you could potentially trip over, have this repaired immediately. Make sure all lighting is adequate throughout your home, especially in walking pathways. Nightlights should be installed in all areas of your living space that you frequent during the night. Have stairs in your home? Make sure there are railings on each side that are sturdy and well anchored to your walls. If you have wooden stairs, consider having them carpeted or have nonslip stair treads installed. Having a nonslip surface in your bathtub or shower in addition to having properly anchored railings is vital, too. The safer your home is, the safer you are! Lastly, make sure your shoes fit you properly. Avoid wearing flip-flops or footwear that doesn’t fit snugly on your feet.

Reducing intrinsic risk factors can be a little more difficult. Of utmost importance is to regularly reconcile your medications with your pharmacist and physician(s). This should be done any time a new medication is prescribed or if a dosage is altered. Take extra precautions when taking medications that may cause dizziness, hypotension, or faintness. If you wear corrective lenses or glasses, make sure your prescription is up to date. Even if you do not have vision problems, regular exams are still highly recommended. Be honest with your medical team about your medical conditions and whether you’re experiencing any new symptoms or problems. Inquire about having your balance assessed during doctors’ visits as well. If you’re told your balance is poor, request a prescription for physical therapy. Additionally, make sure any walking device you may be using is properly fitted to you and that you’re taught how to use it correctly. With regard to physical activity, participating in regular exercise is absolutely vital to maintaining your independence and reducing your risk of falling. You should be exercising to improve muscle mass, muscle strength, and balance – all of which are directly responsible for reducing fall risk in older adults. Not sure what types of exercise will improve these three things? There are endless resources available to you in terms of exercise options, even during COVID times!

The last fall prevention strategies we’ll discuss involve the situational or extrinsic risk factors. I can’t stress this enough, folks…DO NOT CLIMB ON YOUR COUNTERTOPS! All items in your kitchen or bathroom (anywhere you have cabinets) should be within reach. If they’re not, move them, please! You should be taking extra caution when using ladders or step stools and only use them when legitimately required. If you’re not comfortable trying to obtain an item that is too high to reach, ask someone to help you. When it comes to participating in exercise or playing sports, do so within your ability level. If you’re barely able to walk because of mobility issues or weakness in your legs, you probably shouldn’t be attempting to play pickleball. Rather, it’s much safer for you to swim or perform seated exercises. For those of you who are naturally fast walkers, for the love of all that’s mighty slow down! The faster you walk, the less aware of your surroundings you are and the more likely you are to trip over your own feet. So, again, please slow down!

There are obviously many other risk factors and fall prevention strategies that weren’t discussed in this post. The most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of falling is to educate yourself about what your risk factors are and to implement any applicable prevention strategies. Be open to having an honest conversation about your risk of falling with medical professionals, family members, and caretakers. Do your best to be accepting of any suggestions and help they may be able to offer you. Remember, falling is not a normal part of aging!

For more information regarding fall prevention, be sure to check out two of my favorite resources: