Reducing Falls for Older Adults

by Dr. Virginia Harbour, PT

Thousands of our seniors fall in their home each year resulting in serious injury and billions of dollars in hospitalization costs. Expenditures related to falls cost the U.S. more than $27 billion dollars each year. Between 20% and 30% of those people sustain injuries that reduce their mobility, independence, and increase their risk of premature death.

Older adults are 5 times more likely to be hospitalized from a fall related injury than younger adults. Costs and risks associated with falls may be reduced with early intervention and an annual risk assessment.

Between 50% and 65% of falls happen around the home. There are some simple ways to immediately reduce your fall risk such as getting rid of clutter and clearing the pathways in your home. Installing grab bars in your bathroom and hand rails by porch steps will greatly reduce your risk since most falls by older adults occur in the bathroom and on the porch. Good lighting is important so use night lights in the bathroom and hallways. What you wear on your feet is very important. Slip-on shoes or shoes with heels can increase your risk of falling so wear shoes that fully surround the foot securely, support the ankle, and have a non-slip sole.

Medication side effects or taking an incorrect dosage can cause a fall. Educate yourself on the side effects of your medications and promptly report any adverse effects to your physician or pharmacist. Keep a current list of all your medications including the dosage and frequency and review it with your pharmacist and physician regularly.

Poor balance or dizziness is a factor in many falls. The American Physical Therapy Association recommends a few tests that have been found to be effective in assessing balance, mobility, and inner ear problems. An evaluation by a qualified licensed Physical Therapist can determine your fall risk, and in most cases, treatment can improve your balance, mobility, and dizziness reducing the likelihood of a future fall.

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