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Preventing Falls in Older Adults: Essential Strategies for Aged Care Homes and Seniors Living at Home


Falls in Older Adults

More than 1 in 4 older people (65+) fall every year. So, what can aged care homes and seniors living at home do to prevent it? Let’s find out.


Understanding Senior Fall Risks


First, let's discuss what puts someone at risk for a fall. We're talking about weaker muscles, balance issues, and even home hazards that could put someone in a potentially dangerous situation. Fall risk factors for seniors are varied and often interconnected, categorised into personal and environmental factors.


Personal Fall Risk Factors


  1. Age-Related Physical Changes

  • Reduced muscle strength, decreased bone density, joint stiffness, and overall decline in physical fitness can affect balance and coordination.

  1. Medical Conditions

  • Chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, or neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease can affect a senior's mobility and balance.

  1. Medication Side Effects

  • Some medications or combinations of medications can cause dizziness, dehydration, or sudden drops in blood pressure that can lead to falls.

  1. Vision and Hearing Loss

  • Poor vision and hearing loss can prevent seniors from detecting hazards that could cause them to trip or fall.

  1. Cognitive Impairment

  • Conditions like Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia can lead to poor judgment and difficulty with spatial orientation, increasing fall risk.

  1. Balance and Gait Problems

  • Difficulty with walking and balance, often due to muscle weakness or neurological conditions, is a significant risk factor for falls.

  1. Slow Reflexes

  • Delayed reaction times can prevent seniors from catching themselves if they start to fall, increasing the likelihood of injury.

  1. Foot Problems

  • Painful foot conditions and poor footwear can affect stability and gait.


Environmental Fall Risk Factors


  1. Home Hazards

  • Loose rugs, poor lighting, cluttered floors, and lack of handrails & safety equipment in bathrooms can all contribute to falls.

  1. Improper Use of Mobility Aids

  • Incorrect use of walkers, canes, or wheelchairs can lead to accidents.

  1. Unsafe Clothing

  • Clothes that drag on the ground or shoes with poor grip can cause tripping or slipping.

  1. Environmental Conditions

  • Icy footpaths, wet floors, uneven terrain, and other outdoor hazards can increase the risk of falls.


Conducting a Senior Fall Risk Assessment


Understanding and mitigating these risk factors through a senior fall risk assessment can help prevent falls. This assessment typically involves a healthcare professional evaluating a senior's risk of falling by looking at their health conditions, medications, home environment, and overall physical and mental fitness. Based on this assessment, tailored solutions such as physical therapy, home modifications, or changes in medication can be suggested to reduce the risk of falls.


Key Exercises to Stop Falls


When it comes to exercises, experts suggest that older adults benefit from exercises focusing on balance, gait, and strength training. Some specific programs and exercises backed by studies include:


  1. Integrated Training Programs

  • These often include a mix of resistance training, core strengthening, and balance exercises, shown to effectively reduce fall risks.

  1. Pilates and Tai Chi

  • These exercises emphasise controlled movements and core strength, which are key in maintaining balance.

  1. Balance Training

  • Using T-bow and wobble board training challenges the body's balance and strengthens muscles used to stay upright.

  1. Aerobic and Stability Exercises

  • Aerobic step and stability ball training are excellent for improving overall fitness and balance, critical in fall prevention.

  1. Adapted Physical Activities

  • Activities like Wii Fit training can be engaging and effective in improving balance among seniors.

  1. Combined Exercise Protocols

  • Combining different types of balance and strength exercises is highly effective in reducing fall-related injuries, even for those 80 years and older.



Falls in Older Adults


Why Are Falls Concerning for Older People?


Falls are the number one cause of accidental injury in older Australians. As our population ages, the number of falls and fall-related hospitalisations increases. Even when falls don't cause injury, they often trigger a loss of confidence, leading to inactivity, which further increases the risk of falling.


Why Might Older People Fall?


Several reasons contribute to falls among older people, including:

  1. Changes to the Body

  • Difficulty with balance, weaker muscles, poorer eyesight, slower reaction times, new health problems, and cognitive impairments can lead to falls.

  1. Dangers in and Around the Home

  • Poor lighting, unsafe footwear, slippery surfaces, and trip hazards like rugs and electrical cords are common household hazards.

  1. Neglecting General Health and Wellbeing

  • Poor physical activity, inadequate nutrition, and dehydration can lead to weaker muscles and poor balance.

  1. Other Risk Factors

  • Conditions like low blood pressure, postural hypotension, stroke, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, diabetes, depression, and osteoporosis can increase fall risk.


When Should You See a Doctor?


Speak with your doctor if you've had a fall, even if you feel fine. Falls can indicate various health issues, including new medical problems, medication side effects, balance problems, and muscle weakness. Regular check-ups can help address concerns before they lead to serious falls.


How Are Falls Treated?


  1. Vitamin D and Calcium Supplements

  • These can improve bone health and reduce the likelihood of fractures.

  1. Medications Review

  • Reviewing medications can help identify and mitigate side effects that increase fall risk.

  1. Podiatry Assessment

  • Addressing foot health can improve balance and mobility.

  1. Eyesight Assessments and Cataract Surgery

  • Regular eye checks and surgeries can prevent falls caused by poor vision.

  1. Hip Protectors

  • These can reduce the likelihood of hip fractures, especially for those with osteoporosis or frequent falls.


How Can Falls Be Prevented?


  1. Lifestyle Changes

  • Regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and drinking plenty of water can help improve strength and balance.

  1. Changes Around the Home

  • Improving lighting, installing handrails, using non-slip mats, and removing trip hazards can significantly reduce fall risk.


Complications Following a Fall


Falls can cause serious injuries like hip fractures, head injuries, and wrist fractures. They can also lead to a loss of independence, increased reliance on caregivers, and a higher chance of moving into aged care facilities.


Resources and Support


  • Queensland Health offers a video with steps to reduce fall risks in the bathroom.

  • Western Australia Health's Stay on Your Feet website provides safety tips.

  • Healthy Bones Australia offers articles on moving safely and recovering from fractures.

  • Occupational Therapy Australia can help find a private practice OT to assess home safety.

  • Injury Matters provides home safety checklists and resources.


Conclusion


Falls are a major health concern for older people, but many steps can be taken to reduce the risk. By understanding the risk factors and implementing preventative measures, aged care homes and seniors living at home can significantly improve safety and quality of life for older adults.



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