Society has a misconception of the “Golden Years.” People are supposed to age gracefully, gain a great sum of knowledge, and live out their days happy and healthy. Unfortunately, seniors are at the highest risk for falls, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unlike heart attacks, strokes, or other major medical illnesses, falls are entirely preventable, but they continue to happen. To curb this trend, senior caregiver training needs to include a focus on fall statistics, risks, and preventative measures.
Facts of Falls Among Seniors
One in three seniors falls annually, yet less than half of those who fall never tell their health care providers or senior caregivers. Moreover, a senior dies every 20 minutes from a fall in the US, reports the CDC. The risk for injury from a fall increases dramatically for seniors. This is due in part to the following factors:
- Bones lose density over time.
- Medications may result in dizziness, weakness, faint, or other balance-impacting side effects.
- Weakness, arthritis, or previous injuries can lead to imbalance and poor walking ability.
- Pain and improper footwear can lead to a loss of balance.
- Vision problems can lead a senior into a dangerous setting, such as stepping off a curb without realizing it.
Falls are ranked within the 20 most expensive medical condition, elucidates the CDC. The direct medical costs surpass $34 billion each year, and fall-related hospital costs account for $22.7 billion of this sum. Meanwhile, the cost of treating falls rises with each passing year.
Most importantly, a senior who has fallen previously is more than twice as likely to suffer another fall. Therefore, the key to stopping falls rests on raising awareness and decreasing risk.
Key Ways to Reduce Fall-Risk
Many seniors may have caregivers to help reduce fall-risk. For example, caregivers can make settings less fall-conducive, but senior caregivers cannot always be present. Caregivers may have children to take to school or other seniors to care for. Unfortunately, hoping for no falls is the equivalent of letting a fall happen. Senior caregiver training should focus on the following ways to reduce fall-risk.
Canes, Padding, and Walkers
There is such thing as a safe fall. Seniors with walking-aids, such as canes or walkers, may be less likely to fall. Seniors with a history of falls may wear extra clothing as padding, explains the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Senior caregivers must be careful with this point as extra padding during hot temperatures increases the risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Range of Motion
Range of motion is less intensive than full-blown exercises. Range of motion simply refers to moving the joints through all possible positions. For example, range-of-motion exercises of the shoulder include the following:
- Arm circles.
- Moving the arm to the center of the chest and as far back as possible.
- Moving the arm from a straight-up position to a straight-down position.
The key to each of these motions is to only extend the joint as far as naturally possible. If a previous injury has occurred, seniors and senior caregivers should not attempt range of motion unless approved by the primary care physician.
Range of motion may also be active or passive.
Active range of motion is when a person performs the movements under his or her own volition.
Passive range of motion is when the person is not actively moving the joint, e.g. a caregiver moves the shoulder through the motions for the senior. The goal of both types is to engage the senior in bone-and muscle-strengthening movements.
Depending on age and level of health, exercise helps to prevent falls. Seniors’ exercise regimens should be short, doctor-approved, and low-risk for injury. Some simple exercises include walking, lifting low-weight items repeatedly, walking stairs (even if it’s only walking up two and down two steps at a time), or using an exercise bike.
Treadmills are not advised as they can be dangerous due to complex settings or stopping abruptly.
For high-activity seniors, intense exercises may be used to improve circulation, balance, and joint-health. Dance, running classes, gardening, or “spotting another when lifting light weights” make excellent exercises for strengthening the body and improving social skills at the same time.
No discussion on the importance of exercise and range of motion is complete without touching on the importance of diet. For seniors, not having enough vitamin D and calcium increases the risk of bone fractures from a fall. In some cases, a dietary supplement may be necessary. According to the NIAMS, the recommended dosages for bone-strengthening supplements are as follows.
|Calcium (mg/day)||Vitamin D (mg/day)|
|51- to 70-year-old males||1,000||600|
|51- to 70-year-old females||1,200||600|
|Seniors above age 70||1,200||800|
Medication and Medical Adherence
The final key strategy in preventing falls focuses on adhering to medications and medical advice. Sometimes, seniors may forget to take their medications, and certain medications, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) medications, can result in dizziness, disorientation, or confusion. Failing to take psychoactive medications as prescribed may increase fall-risk even more.
Senior caregivers must ensure seniors adhere to their medications and the recommendations of their physicians. This is key to staying healthy and preventing a fall. As seniors age, a bone-density test may be helpful in determining fall-risk. A low-density result may indicate the need for medication to keep bones from becoming more porous (sponge-like).
While fall-related tragedies continue to plague the elderly community, senior caregivers have a duty to reduce fall-risk. Senior caregivers need to be properly trained on fall statistics and fall-risk. Since falls are preventable, having this training will mean the difference between a tragedy and a normal day in the life a senior.