The Myths of Seniors’ Risk of Falling
Many people believe that the risk of falling increases simply as a matter of aging. While seniors do have a greater risk of falling as compared to the general adult population, it is not merely due to their advanced age, but to a number of easily preventable factors.
As safety and independence are a priority, it's important to first be aware of the numbers when helping an elderly parent with their goal of staying in their own home as they age.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada:
85% of falls are the cause of seniors' injury-related hospitalizations
95% of all hip-fractures are the result of falls
50% of all falls which require hospitalization occur within the home
While these numbers are disturbing, there are many practical, low-cost measures you can implement for your parent to prevent them from becoming one of those statistics.
It's about creating the environments that will help them to maximize their safety and independence and allow them to realize a quality of life they desire and deserve.
Their home environment is an obvious place to start. Adaptations to support their functional independence are more often low-cost and easy to implement; brighter task lighting, removing area rugs and replacing door knobs with lever handles will increase safety as well as make day-to-day tasks easier. More involved renovations to accommodate changes in your loved ones' mobility are more of a financial investment, but government grant programs exist to help in these types of costs - assuming eligibility requirements are met.
There are other environments that are as equally critical. These address your parents' physical, mental, emotional and financial issues that directly impact their quality of life as they seek to age at home.
It can be somewhat of a Catch-22 situation, as one or a number of the following factors can negatively impact one another, leading to an increased risk of falling.
Factor in Risk of Falling: Poor diet
Lack of physical/mental energy to plan, shop for and prepare meals
Inadequate intake of required nutrients
Inadequate intake of water
Decreased sense of taste/smell
Oral health issues (chewing/swallowing, dentures)
Decreases interest in planning/eating more than basic, easy to prepare (and thus often nutrient-poor) foods
* - possible depression or other mental health issues which further lead to a lack of interest
Factor in Risk of Falling : Inadequate muscle tone
Lack of physical activity (cardio, strength training, stretching), poor diet (lack of protein)
Decreases strength, energy, balance, range of motion and body temperature regulation
Factor in Risk of Falling : Lowered bone density
Diet lacks adequate nutrients (calcium, potassium, magnesium, etc)
Lack of weight bearing physical activity
Possible side effect of some prescription medication
Factor in Risk of Falling : Reduced vision and/or hearing
Poor nutrition compounds age-related decreases in eyesight, hearing and balance
In combination with insufficient general household and task lighting
Factor in Risk of Falling : Medications (Prescription and Over The Counter)
Risk of negative side effects and/or interactions increases with the number of drugs taken
Factor in Risk of Falling : Existing Health Issues
Increased number of health conditions can combine and contribute to increase the risk of falls ie: arthritis, inner ear (vertigo), eye (cataracts) and blood pressure conditions
Factor in Risk of Falling : Limited Income
Often seniors will opt for lower cost, nutrient-poor packaged food products if living expenses are a struggle
The good news is that with a bit of effort, planning and organization, each of these areas can be readily addressed to greatly reduce your elderly parents' risk of falling.
This is where you begin to assemble your parents' healthcare team:
GP - full physical, review meds (reduce [to eliminate]), full blood workup to know the numbers get GP to refer to dietician/nutritionist (or go privately) re: full assessment of diet to identify nutritional gaps
Senior fitness coach assessment re: current status (strength, balance, ROM, etc)
Eye doctor - full exam
Dentist - full exam
OT to assess the home environment