According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 1 in 3 older adults experience a fall each year. When older adults fall, 40% will fracture their hip. The Technology for Injury Prevention in Seniors (TIPS) program at Simon Fraser University found that “Approximately 20% of hip fracture patients die within a year, and 50% will not return to their pre-fracture level of mobility and independence”. TIPS stresses that falls are the number one cause of injury for older adults.
Most of these falls occur at home. Falls are generally caused by poor balance, decreased muscle and bone strength, impaired vision or hearing and unsafe conditions within the home.
The best ways to avoid falls are to:
– eat well and stay hydrated
– stay fit
– have your eyes checked annually
– wear proper footwear
– take medication properly and,
– use safety aids such as a cane if necessary.
Another way to prevent falls is ensuring that the home environment is safe.
The Public Health Agency of Canada states that older adults account for 70% of stair related deaths. The agency offers 12 tips for stair safety at home:
- Make sure that your stairway is well lit.
- Ensure that the stairs are in good repair.
- Uneven steps should be fixed.
- If you are unable to see the edges of the steps install special strips.
- Fasten covering on stairs securely or consider removing it.
- Handrails should be fastened securely and you should be able to get your full hand around it.
- There should be at least one handrail and it should be at a height of 34” to 38”.
- Remove clutter.
- Remove loose rugs from the stair landings.
- Rushing is a major cause of falls – go slowly.
- If you are carrying something make sure it does not block your vision and keep one hand free to use the rail.
- Remove your reading glasses before using the stairs.
Visit the Public Health Agency of Canada website to view a comprehensive list of ways to prevent falls throughout the home.
Wearing the right shoes can be important for falls prevention. The Finding Balance website, coordinated by the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, offers valuable information on ‘Choosing the Ideal Shoe’. Finding Balance also suggests seeing your doctor if you often feel dizzy or lightheaded. To avoid dizziness after lying in bed or sitting in a chair they suggest “clench your fists and circle your ankles 10 times, then take your time and get up slowly”.
Various technologies have been developed to assist with falls prevention. Tactonic Technologies , for example, has created a floor mat called the InteliMatTM. The mat senses gait, walking, movement and balance. Caregivers can monitor the balance (the risk of falling) and activity of older adults in the home. The mats may also be able to detect health conditions such as Parkinson’s and stroke.
The National Council on Aging website has created a list Debunking the Myths of Older Adult Falls. One of the myths listed is the notion that “If I limit my activity, I won’t fall”. Staying physically active helps to maintain strength and range of motion. Another good reason to stay active.