Aging & Balance – Fall Prevention

More than one in three mature adults over the age of 65 falls at least once a year, and the risk of serious injury resulting from falls also increases with age. In fact, falls are the second leading cause of accidental death among mature adults.

Both internal (physical) and external (environmental) factors contribute to falls:

Internal Factors
External factors
muscle strength
floor/ground surfaces
stairs & steps
area rugs
psychological state
cognitive state
furniture arrangement

Balance is a complicated process that relies on four major systems in the body – the musculoskeletal system (muscles and joints), the vestibular system (located in the inner ear), the somatosensory system, and the visual system. When just one of these systems does not work properly, it can affect balance and increase one’s risk of falling. Unfortunately, age-related changes do occur to each of these systems – contributing to an increased rate of falls for mature adults. Field of vision decreases; muscles lose strength and flexibility – due to both aging and inactivity; our feet become less sensitive to changes in surface conditions; and the vestibular system loses sensitivity over time. However, there is good news to report. Research has shown that mature adults who participate in balance and mobility programs can dramatically reduce their risk of falling. The evidence is very clear that programs that specifically target the systems
involved in balance control and also focus on building lower body strength can be very effective. The evidence is just as clear that programs that are not specific enough are not very effective in improving balance.

If a fall does occur, it can be very helpful to keep a record of that event. People fall for a variety of reasons, so understanding what caused your fall is a key element in avoiding future falls. In case of a fall, answer the following questions:

  • Where did the fall happen?
  • What were you doing at the time of the fall?
  • What was the time of day?
  • When had you last eaten?
  • What clothes and footwear did you have on?
  • What medications had you recently taken?
  • What was your state of mind at the time?

Show this information to your doctor so a plan of action can be developed that decreases your risk for future falls.

Here are some other effective measures that can be taken to reduce your risk of falling:

  • Wear proper shoes; high heels and shoes that do not provide proper support or fit can affect your balance.
  • Check those area rugs; a slip-resistant backing should be applied. It may be more helpful to remove all area rugs from your home.
  • Wear your eyeglasses! Poor vision is a major risk factor for falls.
  • Take time getting out of bed; dizziness can occur when getting out of bed too quickly. Try sitting at the edge of the bed for 30 seconds before standing.
  • Eliminate clutter around the house; make sure there is an easy path through each room and electrical cords, magazines and other items are not in the way.
  • Don’t skip any meals – especiall breakfast – and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle! Weak muscles contribute to falls.
  • Make sure items used frequently – such as kitchen items and the night stand light – are within easy reach.
  • Install night lights in the hallways – especially in the hallway leading from the bedroom to the bathroom.

Consider the following to make your bathroom more safe – because the bathroom is a high risk area for falls:

  • Install a bench or shower chair and a hand-held nozzle in the shower.
  • Have the toilet seat raised – making it easier to get on and off.
  • Place non-skid mats in front of the sink, tub and shower, and toilet.
  • Install grab bars near the toilet and in and around the shower.

By eliminating environmental hazards in the home and participating in a physical activity program that is designed specifically to improve balance, mauture adults have the power to greatly reduce one of the leading health and safety concerns in their lives.

For more information visit National Institutes of Health – Senior Heath.

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