Increased risk of falling is often associated with getting older. In fact, research shows that about 1 in 3 individuals over the age of 65, and 1 in 2 individuals over the age of 80 will fall this year.  A large percentage of these falls will result in fractures and long stays in the hospital.

Although getting older is unavoidable it is possible to prevent falling.  The best way to do this is to recognize what factors put you at risk for falling and then to decrease those risk factors.  As the roads and walkways get icier it is critical to examine what risk factors are present in your life and then to take action to try and minimize them.

Common risk factors mentioned by the American Physical Therapy Association include: increased weakness in the legs, changes in vision, taking multiple medications, arthritis, depression, and problems walking.

 

Some of these changes are part of the natural aging process, but many are due to lack of activity and exercise.  Good balance is an integral part of every day life.  For many, balance is a big factor influencing fall risk.  Balance is maintained by many sensory systems in the body including information from your muscles, your eyes, and your brain.  All of which needs to be synthesized into a cohesive message.

When one system is not working properly, it can make your balance worse.  If you add on top of that, decreased reaction time, which is often associated with getting older, you are setting yourself up for a fall.

However, there are steps you can take to both identify and decrease your risk for falling.  It is often thought that one risk factor does not necessarily increase your risk dramatically, but as the number of risk factors increase, so does your likelihood of falling.  Therefore, changing even one risk factor can signficantly decrease your risk.

Some basic steps include:

  • Getting an annual eye exam: Your eyes give you information about your environment and your place in it.  If you have changes in your quality of vision or the amount you can see, you may be at risk for falls.  Common changes in eyesight with age include a decreased ability to judge distances between objects and see changes in surface height, reduced visual fields or blind spots, and difficulty changing focus between near and far objects.  You can reduce your risk of falling by having your vision checked annually, using night lights in the house, and giving yourself time to adjust to changes in the amount of light.
  • Reviewing your medications with your physicians: If you take more then 4 medications you are at increased risk for falling.  This is in part due to the potential of interactions between medication that can produced unexpected  side effects including dizziness, disorientation, and excessive sleepiness.  Many times your physician may be unaware of all of the medications you are taking and may be able to make changes to diminish unwanted side effects that increase your risk of falls.
  • Have your home reviewed for hazards: Often falls are due to objects or hazards that could have been avoided including clutter, pets, throw rugs, and low lighting.  Home assessments can provide an individual with specific ideas as to how to decrease risk within the home.
  • Start a regular exercise program emphasizing balance activities: Very often, lack of balance is due to inactivity that can lead to weakness in the legs.  By incorporating specific exercises  that improve balance, you can reduce your risk of falls.  If you are unsure about where to start, contact us or your local physical therapist for an evaluation and to help develop an individualized plan for exercises that will help improve balance, strength, and decrease risk of falls.  Balance is something that can be trained and does not have to diminish with age.

Research shows that risk of falling can be reduced in the elderly with specific exercises, activities, and interventions targeting the individual's specific deficits.  Fear of falling does not have to limit your independence.

Information taken from article written by this author and published in the Fernley Leader Courier, 01/07/09