Fall Prevention for the Elderly

   July 08, 2015     23844 views

By: A/Prof Goh Lee Gan

What causes elderly people to fall?

There are many causes for elderly falling but they can be grouped into three major areas:

Medications – These pose silent but potent danger. Did you know that taking cold tablets can blur your vision?

External factors – These are environmental in nature such as unsafe floors, stairs and obstacles in gardens.

Internal factors – Medical conditions like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, knee and hip osteoarthritis could affect mobility and increase likelihood of falls.

How serious are elderly falls?

Falls can result in hip fractures and head injury. One in 5 older adults who sustained a hip fracture dies within a year.

About 70% of home accidents involved people aged 65 years and older.

Elderly fall victims could suffer long term consequences which include disability caused by hip fracture or head injury and reduced or loss in ability in handling daily living activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, toileting and grooming.

Five tips to prevent falls

TIP 1 - Take a life course on fall prevention

The World Health Organisation urges everyone to take a life course approach in preventing falls by maintaining functional capacity for life.

In younger life – Parents should pay attention to the proper growth and development of their children.

In adult life – Individuals need to maintain the highest possible level of function where possible.

In older life – Individuals need to maintain independence and prevent disability by staying active, and reduce deconditioning consequences due to inactive lifestyles.

TIP 2 - Exercise five days a week

Good strong legs prevent falls. You don’t have to run. Walking improves physical fitness and stability.

Do callisthenic exercises if you like them. They improve stability and help prevent falls.

Tai Chi is also useful to promote confidence and balance.

If you are walking or exercising five days a week, 30 minutes each time, you are on the right track.

What if you are walking unsteadily? The use of a walking frame, quad stick, or walking stick, in order of decreasing walking support, is the way to go. The more unstable a person is standing and walking, the more support is needed. A caregiver should also be around to manage any mishap.

TIP 3 - Manage your medications

  • This is an action that you must really take charge of and do so seriously.
  • Avoid sleeping pills – You need your senses to work all the time. Any temporary impairment could cause unnecessary and dangerous falls.
  • Cold tablets could blur your vision – If you really need them, start low and go slow.
  • Check if medications cause dizziness. Some like blood pressure pills are necessary. Avoid sudden position changes – sit up, wait and feel your balance before you stand up and walk. Let the telephone ring. Rushing to the phone has caused many falls to occur.

TIP 4 - Go for vision checks

Check your eyesight annually. Vision impairment could doubles the risk of falls.

Blurred vision needs to be checked by doctors. Cataract presents this way. Halos around street lights at night and glare from bright lights during the day are also early signs.

TIP 5 - Make your home safe

  1. Pay attention to slippery floors, rugs, toys, and obstacles that could result in tripping.
  2. Bathrooms should have grab bars and stairs should be well lit.
  3. Do not store things out of reach if possible and do not climb ladders to reach things. Ask someone younger and agile to help you. If no one else is around, forget it or wait for help.  

A/Prof Goh Lee Gan is the Medical Director at Bethany Methodist Nursing Home.

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