A fall can be fatal for older citizens. That’s why learning what to do when the elderly keep falling is crucial to avoid death or injury.
In this article:
- Why Do Old People Fall?
- How to Prevent Cause of Falls in the Elderly
- What to Look out for After a Fall
Causes of Elderly Falls and What to Do When Elderly Keep Falling
Why Do Old People Fall?
The number of older Americans who suffer fatal falls is rising steadily. Studies show that mortality rates for falls have doubled for people over 75, from the year 2000 to 2016.
Researchers are baffled as to why the rate of old people falling has gotten so high. But they deduce that it’s mostly because of the high amount of people surviving into old age, as well as medications that increase their fall risk.
When people are younger, it’s easier for them to stay upright. This is thanks to a more stable and sprightly physiology, as well as faster reaction times.
Here are some risk factors of falling for elderly people:
- Health-based – This includes factors such as problems with balance, chronic diseases, weaknesses, vision impairments, and side-effects of medication.
- Triggers – There are events which warrant a sudden challenge of strength and balance of a person. They can be the sudden tug of a leashed dog or low-blood sugar.
- Environmental – These are the factors that come with the environment. Such examples are indoors like loose rugs or wayward objects, or outdoors, like slippery sidewalks.
How to Prevent Cause of Falls in the Elderly
Fall risks may be reduced by taking these necessary precautions:
1. Reviewing Medication
Medications are a common cause of falling for the elderly. They are also often overlooked by most doctors, but when caregivers become proactive it’s the easiest risk factor to turn right around.
Here are some medications one should look out for:
- Psychoactives – These are drugs which affect the brain. They may cause drowsiness and sedation, as well as worsen confusion especially in older patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
- Blood Pressure Medications – These can suddenly cause blood pressure levels to drop, increasing the risk of a fall, or postural hypotension. Sudden and chronic drops of blood pressure levels can significantly raise the risk of falling.
- Blood Sugar Medications – These are medications for people with diabetes, who have a higher risk of falling. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is usually a result of taking these medications, and is among the many factors that precede falls in elderly diabetes patients.
- Antipsychotics and Antidepressants – These medications are used to treat psychosis and other mental health illnesses. Many have a sedative effect that can cause drowsiness and lack of coordination, which increases the risk of falling.
- Anticonvulsants – Originally used to treat seizures, they are also now in use as mood stabilizers. Some have side effects like nausea and drowsiness which raise fall risk factors.
2. Blood Pressure Checks
Constant blood pressure checks while sitting and standing are helpful in preventing falls in the elderly. This is to ensure blood pressure levels aren’t well into the low side, and they aren’t drastically dropping as the patient stands up.
3. Physical Evaluations
The strength, balance, and gait of the patient undergo evaluations to pinpoint any fall risks. This is often done alongside physical therapy.
Physical evaluations and physical therapy often work to target physiological shortcomings and design specific programs to improve them.
4. Home Safety Assessment
Assessing the home environment of an elderly patient and making the right modifications are crucial in preventing falls. Much like proofing a home for an infant, proofing a home for an elderly patient reduces risk factors for serious or fatal injuries.
Incorporating exercise into an elderly patient’s routine is crucial in maintaining strength and balance. Effective forms of exercise include weightlifting to strengthen legs, and tai chi, which helps improve relaxation, coordination, and balance.
6. Acquire Necessary Accessories
Accessorizing according to needs is also an important way to prevent falling. One way is to avoid progressive and bifocal lenses.
This is because they tend to change depth perception and make venturing outside a fall risk. Single-focus lenses are safer and offer no significant change in depth perception.
Wearing proper footwear also reduces the risk of falling. Wearing high-heeled shoes and slip ons and slides are to be avoided.
7. Frequent Bathroom Trips
Constant urination is actually more of a blessing than a bane for elderly people. As long as patients stay properly hydrated, there is little chance of dizziness and nausea.
Of course, this warrants several trips to the bathroom but that isn’t a bad thing. Frequent bathroom visits can be a form of exercise, and the constant sitting and standing is good for training balance.
What to Look out for After a Fall
When the worst does happen and an elderly patient falls, the ensuing doctor’s checkup should be thorough:
1. Look for Signs of Underlying Illness
Doctors generally do this whenever elderly patients exhibit signs of delirium or weakness. But caregivers must bring up any other symptoms so the doctor can plan a course of action.
Common underlying health issues that can cause the elderly to fall include the following:
- Urinary Tract Infection
- Heart Conditions
2. Sitting and Standing Blood Pressure
This is important especially if falls are always associated with fainting, lightheadedness, or orthostatic hypotension. This is mostly due to very abrupt changes in blood pressure levels.
What is Orthostatic Hypotension? Otherwise known as postural hypotension, it is a type of low blood pressure which occurs when you stand up too quickly from a seated or lying down position.
3. Blood Tests
Checking blood tests of an elderly patient can help ensure they aren’t suffering from blood changes. This can include blood sodium increasing or decreasing too much.
Getting a complete blood count (CBC), as well as a kidney function and electrolyte check (chem-7), are good tests to start with. Make sure to also ask the doctor to explain what the results mean, how they are related to falls, and what can be done about it.
Patients with diabetes who are taking insulin should bring along their glucometers or blood sugar logs.
4. Check Vitamin D Levels
Studies suggest a link between levels of vitamin D and falling risks in elderly patients. Treating low levels of vitamin D apparently helps in the reduction of falling.
Low vitamin D can also lead to fragile bones, making it hard for elder patients to remain stable and upright. Taking daily supplements of 800-1000 IU of vitamin D should be enough to return low vitamin D levels to normal, but this may vary for some people.
Falling is a dangerous event for elderly patients, and all measures should be enacted to prevent this from happening. Making better lifestyle choices, being more thorough with medications, and constant consultations with your doctors can help build a more stable, literally and figuratively, life.
What do you do to keep yourself and your elderly loved ones from falling? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below!