Fall prevention for seniors

When a senior falls, it can be extremely harmful, physically and psychologically

Elaine hasn’t slept well for the past week, so when the phone rings at 5:30 a.m., she doesn’t wake with a start.

She’s not surprised when the person on the other end is the night care support worker at the assisted living facility where her Mom lives. This is the fourth call from the facility Elaine has received in the past two weeks.

“Elaine, I’m sorry to bother you again but your Mom was sent to hospital again this morning. She fell while trying to get out of bed and to the bathroom. She’s going to need stitches on her face where she hit the dresser.”

When a senior falls, it can be extremely harmful, physically and psychologically. Falls are caused by a lack of balance or an inability to recover balance.

There are several factors contributing to falls in the elderly. Some are age-related, others are due to physical and mental health issues and at times tripping hazards in the environment are the culprit.

Falls can result in injury, chronic pain, a diminished quality of life and, in severe cases, death.

According to Statistics Canada (2006), just under half of all seniors experiencing a fall sustain a minor injury and up to a quarter suffer a more serious impact including fractures or a sprain. Half of seniors who have a hip fracture due to a fall aren’t able to regain their pre-fall abilities.

Falls are the leading cause of hospitalizations for seniors related to an injury and the sixth leading cause of death. Women are more likely to fall than men.

Psychologically, falls can literally be paralyzing for seniors. Many seniors who experience falls become very fearful, lose their independence and have increased confusion and depression.

When seniors become fearful, they often start to restrict their activities. This, however, can actually increase the risk of falls due to weakened muscles, stiffer joints and poor balance.

The risk of falls is just as serious.

I know of many seniors who have had a fall or near falls and are reluctant to report them to their family members or family physician.  Some of my favorite excuses include: “I’m just clumsy in my old age,” “It wasn’t really a fall” and my all-time favourite, “Things can happen when you have to hustle your bustle to make it to the lady’s room on time!”

Over the next few columns, we’ll explore more about why seniors fall, how to lower the risk of falls and some wonderful resources available in the community and online to educate seniors and families on fall prevention.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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