Seeing a main character in a movie living in constant fear or being fearless never ends well. Living in constant fear results in not enjoying what life has to offer. Being fearless and ignoring all of the warning signs result in failure due to stubbornness. The trope of the story typically goes such that the main character either has a falling out until he or she finds some middle ground between living in constant fear and being fearless. The middle ground normally involves taking advice from others, becoming more knowledgeable, and learning new strategies to become successful with his or her personal endeavors. The same goes for older adults and fall prevention – utilizing the right tools will prevent a fall from occurring.
In this guide, we provide tips and tricks to recognize fall hazards and prevent a future fall from occurring. We also look into which methods are most effective to strengthen your own personal abilities to reduce falls from occurring in the home and in the community. Consider these tips and tricks as a way to keep your fire burning if you’re out in the cold. The more tips and tricks you utilize as wood to feed your fire, the less likely it is that your fire will burn out. The less you utilize the tips and tricks, the more likely your fire is going to burn out and you’ll be in trouble freezing in the cold. The goal remains clear –the more tips and tricks you utilize with fall prevention strategies, the less likely a fall will occur.
All falls are not created equal – some we’re able to laugh off and some result in quite serious injuries. Researchers have broken it down into four types of categories.
Understanding a fall is key here because many older adults tend to blur the lines when confronted about their fall experience. Statements older adults often use will be somewhere along the lines of:
In general, the most clear-cut definition of a fall can be understood as “unintentionally coming to rest on the ground, floor, or other lower level”. Despite which events led to a fall, when a person unintentionally comes to rest on the ground, floor, or lower level, a conversation should be taken to determine what led to the event. Here are some questions to help investigate the culprit of the unintended event:
Using these questions can help guide whether the fall was due to clutter in the home, poor balance, muscle weakness, or perhaps something medical related. Consider it similar to an investigation – the sooner the culprit of the fall is identified, the closer a future fall can be prevented.
In such a case where a fall leads to seeking medical care, establishing the culprit of the fall becomes even more important. The medical team will likely bombard you with several questions similar to those listed above with the intention of understanding your risk for and history of falls. Healthcare professionals do not take falls lightly because researchers found that falls:
Hearing all of this can be overwhelming and stressful. Although falls do happen on occasion, you shouldn’t live your life in fear that you can fall any minute of the day. This kind of thinking is irrational. As older adults remain judicious with getting rid of clutter in the home and understand the strategies on how to prevent falls, older adults can continue living their lives without constant fear of falling. Let’s dive into understanding how best to reduce older adults’ risk for falls.
The ultimate question that is asked is, “How do I prevent a fall from happening?” or “How can I prevent another fall from happening?”. If this is your concern, you’re already moving in the right direction. Older adults that are overconfident in their abilities or live in too much fear of falling are at highest risk for having a fall in the future. What’s the best approach to take? Finding a middle ground between your confidence and learning how to recognize fall risks in both your own abilities and in the environment.
Several things can cause a fall to occur – many of which are outside and within our own control. To put things into perspective, a team of researchers found over 400 factors that can increase an older adult’s risk for falls. Capitalizing on those factors that are within our control is what will ultimately make the difference. In general, fall risk factors can be understood as either:
When uncontrolled for, extrinsic factors can lead to tripping, slipping or having missteps that result in higher risks for falls in older adults. Extrinsic factors that pose the most risk for falls in older adults include:
Intrinsic factors are especially important for older adults as the natural aging process leads to having increased risk for falls that include:
Behavioral risk factors that have been identified that pose the highest risk for falls in older adults include:
If there was one magic pill out there that can help fall prevention in older adults, the answer would be indisputable – exercise. Researchers have looked at many other tactics that theoretically would help prevent older adults from falls such as attending fall prevention classes, home modifications, or home assessments but none compare to the benefits of exercise.
Why is exercise so much more beneficial compared to other tactics? Exercise helps build all of the ‘intrinsic skills’ as mentioned before that are much needed to prevent future falls. You’re probably sick and tired of hearing ‘exercise’ as the cure for everything but in fact it makes a clear case for fall prevention among older adults. Exercise tackles the issue of fall prevention by:
Although any form of exercise is beneficial, specific types of exercises that generate the best results for fall prevention incorporates:
Still not convinced? Let’s look at some research data that reported on the benefits of exercise on decreasing fall risk among older adults. A team of researchers found that a well designed exercise program for older adults living at home and remain active in the community:
Beginning an exercise program isn’t exactly easy and can even seem intimidating. Several exercise programs exist out there for older adults to participate in. Reaching out to community centers or inquiring about the SilverSneakers program is a good start to finding which exercise program currently meets your level of fitness. SilverSneakers is a health and fitness program tailored specifically for older adults. You can find your local facility through their navigation website. Resources from SilverSneakers include the following:
Living in constant fear of falling isn’t the right way to live your life. As long as you implement the fall prevention strategies (intrinsic, extrinsic, and behavioral), take initiative to incorporate an exercise routine, and recognize fall hazards in the home and outside environment, your risk for falls goes down significantly. Each person’s situation is unique and each person may have to utilize different strategies in order to stay safe from falls.
Ever wonder if your own strategies were too out of the ordinary? A team of researchers interviewed older adults and found out personal strategies used in the home and community to prevent falls from occurring:
There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ formula to prevent a fall. As you make your way around the home or community, increasing your awareness to all things that can potentially be fall hazards should be on the back of your mind. The more you’re practicing this strategy, the more natural you’ll become attentive to all surroundings. The motto that should be embedded in your head should include, “It doesn’t matter how things are done, so long as it’s done safely.”
Older adults spend a large portion of their day inside their homes. Homes are supposed to be a safe space but can also pose a risk for falls if fall hazards roam throughout the home environment. Learning how to recognize fall hazards can ultimately reduce the likelihood of a fall from occurring.
Completing a ‘home assessment’ for fall risk is one way to recognize the fall hazards within your own home. The process for a home assessment typically involves identifying problems and offering a safe solution to fall hazard areas in the home. Utilizing a checklist is a free and user-friendly method that older adults can use to recognize fall hazards. An example of a checklist that can be used was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) known as ‘Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults’. See below for examples from the checklist:
A second checklist that offers more solutions is named the Home Safety Self Assessment Tool. This checklist can be done by yourself or with a caregiver or family member and includes a comprehensive approach:
A formal home assessment can also be facilitated by a healthcare professional, such as an occupational therapist. Let your primary doctor know that you would like a home health referral for an occupational therapist to come inside your home and offer their professional assessment. A comprehensive approach is used by the occupational therapist and includes:
A formal assessment completed by an occupational therapist is effective because the removal of fall hazards within the home typically isn’t enough to prevent a fall from occurring. It cannot be stressed enough that each older adult is unique. Understanding how each older adult interacts with their home environment provides an occupational therapist with the best opportunity to provide feedback to an older adult to remain safe within their own home.
On the surface, it may seem like a great idea to get rid of certain items or furniture inside an older adult’s home. Removing such items may in fact cause further fall risks if the older adult has adopted personal strategies to use these removed items to stabilize their standing balance when moving around the home. Occupational therapists can then explore unique ways in collaboration with older adults to learn safe ways how to navigate the home while staying safe and free from falls. Rather than going by a generic playbook to rid fall hazards, it’s often best to figure out what works best for each person.
Don’t live your life in continuous fear that a fall can happen any minute. The probability of a fall occurring in older adults remains low among those that are able to actively participate in the community. If you notice your daily routine becoming more difficult to do in the home or have noticed slight changes in your standing balance, let your primary doctor know immediately. A formal assessment can be done by a healthcare profession to identify your own fall risk.
Utilize the many strategies presented above and remain vigilant with your surroundings. As you embed the multiple tips and tricks into your lifestyle, you can live your life free of falls.