If you are concerned about falling, whether it is for yourself or someone you care about, you are in the right place. As we age, sooner or later, the topic of falling comes up. We understand all the negative and painful consequences that a fall can bring. And we worry. At the same, we cross our fingers and try not to think about it. Is that because, in a way, we think that there is nothing that can be done about it anyway?
As someone who specializes in fall prevention, I can tell you that there is a lot that you can do to keep yourself or your loved one from falling at home. But before we talk about strategies for preventing falls, we will go over how and why falls happen in the first place. Once you understand what contributes to falling, the approaches for preventing falls will make sense to you.
How a fall happens
A fall is a single event that consists of many factors. Most of the time, a fall is not “just an accident.” Most people don’t realize the complexity of what happens during a fall and how various factors interact and lead to a person falling. It gets even more complicated when you consider that each person has their own combination of risk factors that is specific to them, their medical condition, physical and cognitive abilities as well as their physical environment.
So, let’s break it down…
Here are 3 main points that you need to know in order to understand how a fall happens:
1. A fall is a result of inability to maintain balance. If we can’t keep most of our weight over our feet, gravity does its’ job and we fall.
2. There are 2 main types of risk factors, or reasons, that contribute to falling: personal and environmental.
- Reasons that are specific to the person are called personal (or internal) risk factors. Examples of personal risk factors are aging changes such as slowing down of reflexes or reduced vision, medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, side effects of medications, muscle weakness, balance or gait issues, pain, arthritis, cognitive impairment such as dementia, and previous falls.
- Reasons that are specific to the environment are called environmental (or external) risk factors. Examples of external factors are poor footwear, improper use of assistive devices such as walkers or canes, absence of grab bars in the bathroom or other areas, toilet seat or other seats that are too low, wet or slippery floor in the bathroom, clutter on the floor that presents a tripping hazard, stairs inside or outside the home, a bed that is too low or too high etc.
3. A fall occurs when personal factors and environmental factors interact in a way that causes a person to lose their balance, with inability to recover.
Let me give you an example.
John is 87 years old and walks with walker. He has some balance issues due to a previous hip fracture. He hasn’t been feeling well for the last few days, feeling a little weak and sometimes dizzy. His toilet in the bathroom is regular height, about 16 in and has no grab bar next to it. Before going to bed that night, John went to the bathroom and found himself unable to get up from the toilet. He made several attempts and on the last one, he was able to partially lift himself up, but in the process lost his balance and fell. He was later found to have dehydration, a urinary tract infection, and an arm fracture from the fall.
Do you see how John’s personal factors and the environment came into play here? His personal factors were poor balance, obvious weakness in his legs, oncoming dehydration and a new infection. His environment had a low toilet seat and no grab bar to hold on to. As a result, a fall happened. This fall could’ve been avoided if the environment was more appropriate and accommodating to his balance and strength issues. He could’ve made it back to bed safely and called his doctor or a family member the next morning.
What you can do next
Now that you understand how a fall happens, and how personal and environmental reasons come into play, it’s easy to see that as we identify and reduce the risk factors for a fall, the likelihood of a fall would also go down.
Although we can’t prevent all falls from happening, there are numerous ways to reduce the chance of falling for you or your loved one.
You can start with some general tips and ideas like:
- Staying active and exercising regularly.
- Checking vision at least once a year and updating the lenses in your glasses.
- Making sure that the footwear fits properly and has a non-slip sole.
- Reviewing your medications and their side effects with your doctor.
- Using a basic home safety checklist like this one, for ideas on how to make the home safer and more accessible. https://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/pubs/English/booklet_Eng_desktop-a.pdf
Although all of the above strategies are helpful in reducing the likelihood of a fall, the most effective approach to fall prevention is to conduct a professional safety assessment of the home and to develop a personalized fall prevention plan for yourself or your loved one.
This way you can focus on the approaches and solutions that are most relevant to your situation and implement strategies that will have the most impact on keeping you or your loved one safe.
Here is another good resource on fall prevention for you to review, from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you are ready to take a more customized and more effective approach to fall prevention, contact us here to schedule a Home Safety Audit. As part of our service, we can also help you create a Personalized Fall Prevention Plan.
Thank you for reading!