While I am passionate about all my patients, I particularly enjoy dealing with the elderly. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have grandparents around while growing up, since they had already passed on. The Clinic has been experiencing a lot of incidents of falling seniors. And while a few common things may come to mind regarding causes, a range of factors must be examined. Falls in the elderly can lead to injury, hospitalisation, or death.
Several factors contribute to the fact that seniors fall much more frequently than younger people:
-Lack of physical activity – Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased bone mass, loss of balance, and reduced flexibility.
–Impaired vision – This includes age-related vision diseases, as well as not wearing glasses that have been prescribed.
-Medications – Sedatives, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotic drugs, plus taking multiple medications are all implicated in increasing risk of falling.
-Diseases – Healthconditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis, cause weakness in the extremities, poor grip strength, balance disorders and cognitive impairment.
-Surgeries – Hip and knee replacements along with other surgeries, leave an elderly person weak, in pain and discomfort. Sometimes, they are less mobile than they were before the surgery. Walking aids are usually recommended, but many of them believe that maintaining their independence is not using an aid.
-Environmental hazards. – One third of all falls in the elderly population involve hazards at home. Factors include poor lighting, loose carpets, uneven tiling, and lack of safety equipment or adaptation devices.
However, falls are not an inevitable part of growing older. Many falls can be prevented, by making the home safer, and using products that help keep seniors more stable and less likely to fall.
Causes of Falls
While dizziness, medication side effects, and certain health conditions can contribute to falls, most falls in the past were attributed to simple “slips and trips”. A simple case of tripping over uneven surfaces; or catching a foot on a chair leg or walker triggered it.
Falls may also be caused by incorrect transfer or shifting of bodyweight. This involves body movement that caused the centre of gravity to change improperly while walking or standing. Many of these misjudgements or over-corrections occur while transferring from a walker to a chair, or vice versa.
Reaction time and bracing for a fall often determines the damage caused. Older persons may react quickly enough to break a fall, or may not know they’re falling until it’s too late to prevent it. Some falls involve hand impact as the person may recognise that they’re falling, so the arms reach out. The problem is that action doesn’t break their falls, which may be related to a lack of muscle strength in their upper body.”
In older women, falls can be particularly troublesome because osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones), is a widespread problem.
Osteoporosis can develop in men and women – especially in people who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or take steroid medication. But older women are most at risk, since the condition often develops as a result of the hormonal changes that occur during menopause.
Avoiding falls at home
There are several measures you can take to help prevent a fall. Simple everyday measures around the home include:
-mopping up spillages straight away
-removing clutter, trailing wires and frayed carpet
-using non-slip mats and rugs
-using high-wattage light bulbs in lamps and torches so you can see clearly
-organising your home so that climbing, stretching and bending are kept to a minimum, and to avoid bumping into things
-getting help to do things that you are unable to do safely on your own
-not walking on slippery floors in socks or tights
-not wearing loose-fitting, trailing clothes that might trip you up
-wearing well-fitting shoes that are in good condition and support the ankle
-taking care of your feet by trimming toenails regularly, using moisturiser, and seeing a GP or podiatrist about any foot problems.
Healthcare professionals take falls in older people very seriously because of the serious impact that they can have. Your GP may carry out some simple tests to check your balance. They can also review any medicines you are taking in case their side effects may increase your risk of falling.
Your GP may also recommend:
-having a sight test if you are having problems with your vision, even if you already wear glasses.
-doing exercises to improve your strength and balance.
I am making an appeal to all concerned to review yourselves, or anyone in your care, to assess the level of compliance. This applies as well to the environment, to avoid/minimise the incidence of falls.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!