In 2014, 28.7% of older adults reported falling, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be a jarring experience—but there are plenty of ways to prevent falls and regain ground if a loved one has taken a tumble.
Physical activity is both a key component of fall prevention and crucial to recovery, says Rudy Martin, a physical therapist at Sequoia Physical Therapy in Buena Park, California. “Fear of falling actually leads to falls,” Martin says. “Fear causes inactivity, which causes weakness and a lack of challenging oneself.”
If a loved one has recently fallen, it is important to investigate the cause of the fall and to determine whether this is likely to happen again. Falls may be caused by visual, neurological, environmental, mental, inner ear or physical causes. Work with a health care provider or physical therapist to assess the situation and gradually reintroduce physical activity in a monitored environment.
Martin has helped seniors recover from falls and prevent future falls using techniques such as balance training, strengthening exercises and flexibility training. These techniques help to reduce fall frequency or eliminate future falls altogether. Providers may also advise seniors to complete daily exercises at home.
In-home exercises target:
Balance—Stay close as your loved on practices balance while standing at the kitchen counter, holding on. When your loved one feels secure enough, suggest he or she try standing without holding on or even standing on one leg.
Vision—Eye-tracking exercisescan help improve peripheral vision, allowing people to better see the space and any potential hazards.
Posture and strength—Your loved one’s physician may prescribe specific postural and strengthening exercises based on individual needs.|
Create a safe space
Aside from regaining strength and agility, fall recovery and prevention also involves rearranging living spaces to make it easier to get around.
If the fall resulted in a hospital stay, an occupational therapist will likely conduct a homesafety evaluation and provide training on safer ways to complete daily activities, says Dr. Steven Castle, professor of medicine at the University of California’sDavid Geffen School of Medicinein Los Angeles and clinical director ofgeriatrics at the VA Greater Los Angeles.
An occupational therapist may suggest:
Removing tripping hazards, such as area rugs
Installing grab bars and railings in and around showers, bathtubs and toilets
Improving the lighting and installing nightlights in all rooms to make sure walkways and furniture are adequately lit day and night
Family members and caregivers are an important part of the plan to ensure safety, assess the home environment and encourage activity. “Family members naturally want to help by doing everything for their loved ones—but this can be counterproductive,” Martin says. “Our goal is to safely maximize their independence.”
Think about overall health
“Every senior who is recovering from a fall should review current medications and dosages with a doctor,” Castle says. Sleep aids and blood pressure medication may cause drowsiness or dizziness that can lead to another fall. Blood thinners—key in preventing strokes, blood clots or heart attacks—could also increase bleeding in the event of a fall. The risks and benefits of these medications should be reviewed with your doctor.
Mobility aids may also be prescribed as an added safety measure. “If you have had more than one fall or an injury from a fall, then it is recommended you be assessed for a mobility aid such as a cane or walker and receive training from a physical therapist on how to properly use your mobility aid,” Castle says.
Finally, don’t forget about footwear. “Seniors are 14 times more likely to fall if they are barefoot or wearing socks in the house,” Castle says. Shoes help distribute weight from the heels to the balls of the feet, which improves balance, Castle says. Encourage loved ones to wear shoes with a non-slip sole at all times—even in the house.
“Most people consider a fall an accident, when in reality, changes in balance and mobility may have accumulated,” Castle says. “Mindful awareness that your balance is not like when you were younger is necessary to make important lifestyle adjustments for your wellness.”
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