Identifying and Preventing Falls in Senior Citizens

Fear of falling and its consequences are some of the greatest concerns of older patients and their caregivers. A senior’s lifestyle may experience earth-shaking changes due to even one fall – making fall prevention and balance training crucial in many older people’s lives. After screening to evaluate a senior’s risk level there are some strategies and resources which may reduce the chances of catastrophic accidents.

Natural aging process and certain conditions may increase a senior’s risk of falling. Medical professionals seem to now be recommending screening to prevent falling and injuries.

Screening for Risk of Falling in Older Adults

Various health service providers are encouraging people to be proactive in the prevention of falling. Some hospitals and medical centers across the country have started to offer screening to identify fall risk and cautions older adults to continue to stay active as they age.

The screening process is simple and only takes a few minutes. The senior must be able to stand for 15 minutes and step up 8 inches on to the equipment. Licensed physical therapists use a new approach to identify risk factors for falling among older adults as they assess neuromuscular control during the screening. This assessment helps in setting goals for therapy.

The patient is asked to stand on a Biodex Balance System in a normal comfortable standing position. Then the surface will begin to move, and the person’s balance will be quantified and compared with others of their age group. This gives a starting point for the decision as to whether physical therapy is needed and if so, basic goals to pursue in personalized balance training.

Seniors Who May Need to be Screened for Fall Risk

There are a number of older people who may need to be screened in order to prevent falls. Some of the reasons may include:

  • The natural process of aging
  • Orthopedic or sports injuries
  • Neurological disorders including peripheral neuropathy
  • Vertigo or vestibular problems
  • Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke
  • Joint replacement or similar surgeries
  • Balance disorder or coordination issues
  • Lower extremity weakness

For whatever reason, if a caregiver has concerns, if a fall has occurred, or even if there are no immediate concerns, a screening may be a wise way to prevent future problems. Since one out of three adults over age 65 experience falling which sometimes leads to continuing challenges, it seems a small price to pay to spend 30 minutes for the screening.

Preventing Falls in Older Adults … a few things that enhance senior safety

There are a few things caregivers can do to prevent falls in elderly people.

  • Check the home for fall hazards like throw rugs, cluttered walkways and remove obstacles which may impede a senior’s walking through the house. Adjust location of items which may be in the way.
  • Be sure that lighting is accessible and adequate. It should not be difficult to reach the light switch. There may be a need to add night lights where needed and improve outside lights.
  • Monitor the living space for hazards like placement of plants, decorator items, etc, which may cause tripping.
  • Get handrails where needed and grab bars in bath and hallways, even in the garage on the way to the car. Buy non-slip mats for shower or bath area.

Things to Consider for Improving Balance and Preventing Falls in Seniors

One method is personalized balance training using the Biodex Balance System offered by some hospitals and medical centers. This method involves working on dynamic postural stability with a physical therapist who has designed a treatment plan in conjunction with the prescribing doctor. This is done on an outpatient basis and minimizes a senior’s disability along with enhancing functional performance. Real-time biofeedback helps a patient increase core balance skills.

There are other things an older adult can do to improve balance and prevent the risk of falling. Staying active is perhaps first on the list. Regular exercise sometimes works better if done with an organized group since regular exercise is vital. Starting slow making simple changes works best. Other senior citizens use Wii Fit to improve and maintain balance.

Activities to improve balance can be as simple as standing while holding a chair or counter for support and standing on tiptoes for a few seconds. This can be done 5 or more times while watching a favorite TV program. Any physical activity that improves agility, balance, and/or strength will be well worth the effort.

Older adults may get screened to assess their risk of falling. These results give them a chance to become proactive in prevention and safety to avoid what may be the most dreaded problem older adults face – falling. As part of an overall preventive program for senior safety, treatment for improving balance and preventing falls can make growing older far less painful. Making decisions to protect the future can be the smartest thing an older adult can do.

Things to Consider if One is At Risk for Falls

Medical alert devices or medical alarms or the “I’ve fallen and Can’t Get Up” thing … no matter what you call these emergency medical alarm buttons … they do not prevent falls. However, given this discussion regarding fall risk, the question that still remains is … “What can be done after a fall happens?” One possible answer is to consider subscribing to a Personal Emergency Response System Service such as Vital-Link. Click here to learn more about the Vital-Link Emergency Response Medical Alarms.


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