Falls are a very serious concern for older people. While most younger people can recover from a trip or fall quite quickly, the same cannot always be said for older people.
There are various factors which can put people at increased risk of experiencing a fall, such as health conditions and medications.
In fact, falls are the leading cause of premature death in aged care, according to research looking at aged care deaths from 2000-2013.
In the span of 13 years, approximately 2679 older people have died from injuries that they sustained from a fall.
With such high risks, it’s important to understand why falls happen and what can be done as a part of a falls management solution.
Factors increasing the risk of falls
As mentioned there are a number of medical reasons why an older person may be at risk of falling – but there are also some environmental causes.
Many older people live with chronic health conditions which can cause dizziness and result in people losing their balance. This may include: heart disease and low blood pressure, dementia or Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, epilepsy, vision impairment or muscular weakness
Other conditions that affect balance include vertigo – the sensation of feeling off balance, and having dizzy spells.
As people age, most will find that their vision and muscle will naturally weaken. Weakened muscles mean they may not recover from slipping and catch themselves, rather, they fall heavily to the ground. With poor vision, older people are more likely to collide with furniture and other obstacles.
Aside from health issues, there can by environmental issues that cause accidental falling or slipping, such as rugs or carpets that are not properly secured. Bathrooms can be particularly dangerous as they are prone to being slippery when wet.
Stairs can also be dangerous for older people, or when reaching for items that are too far away, such as trying to reach for a coffee cup on the table that is just out of reach for them.
Fear of Falling – is it a real condition?
According to one study, fear of falling (FOF) is a major health problem among the elderly living in the community. The fear of falling can happen to anyone, whether they have fallen previously – and are scared to fall again – or have never experienced a fall and fear getting seriously hurt.
A fear of falling can become a serious public health concern when older people do not perform daily activities they have the ability to perform.
This restriction of activity may lead to a loss of lower limb strength, a further reduction in mobility and physical function, and social isolation.
It could be suggested that the fear of falling actually increases the chance of a person falling.
Preventing Falls – where to start?
What people may not realise is that while falls may appear to be accidental events, in many cases they can be predicted, and therefore minimised or prevented through careful management and vigilance.
A falls management solution can contain any or all of the following:
Referral to an occupational therapist for a home assessment
Occupational therapists are also integral in improving mobility with assessment for assistive aids, like walking sticks or scooters.
Occupational therapists can even do home assessments, where they go through and tell you clearly what risks there may be around a person’s home. They can advise you on preventative measure that can be taken to lower the risk of falls.
For muscular or mobility issues, seeing a physiotherapist may help strengthen a person’s physical ability, particularly with the implementation of structured exercise interventions.
People who struggle with certain physical activities can learn to compensate for these with other strategies such as the use of a cane, for those with visual impairments, or walking aids, for those with insufficient leg muscle strength.
Physiotherapists can also have an important role in the provision of compensatory strategies and the decision about when to attempt rehabilitation.
Appropriate equipment and aids
There are aids that older people can use to assist them with mobility issues. For example, if they have poor hearing or vision, then they may need glasses or hearing aids to help them navigate.
Around the home, many people find that installing grab bars and handrails help them move around their home.
While bathrooms can be a particularly challenging place for people with falls, there are a range of items that can be installed, such as baths that are easy to access and seats/supports for showering and toilets.
Tunstall have created a number of innovative technologies to help manage the risk associated with falls in the elderly.
One such device is the Vibby fall detector, a sleek, contemporary and technologically advanced fall detector which can be worn on the wrist or around the neck. The Vibby fall detector will automatically raise an alert if it senses the user has fallen, and also enables the wearer to easily call for help manually.
The Find-me Tunstall Carers Watch is a cellular personal emergency response system, panic alert, GPS tracker and fall detector all in one, the watch offers an unobtrusive duress alert device providing additional security at home and in the community.
Another is the Smart Hub, an advanced medical alarm with digital technology. Supplied with a personal pendant that can be worn on the wrist or around the neck, the user can activate an alarm call from anywhere in the home, without having to reach a phone.
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