How to Prevent Falls in the Elderly

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If you have an elderly parent or grandparent in your family, you may be worried about their well being particularly if they live alone. If they have a history of having fallen in the past, it becomes even more concerning since sixty percent of elderly patients who have one fall go on to fall again. Falls can be a significant cause of mortality in the elderly population by leading to hip fractures. Surprisingly, almost a quarter of all elderly people who experience a hip fracture die within six months of the incident. For this reason it’s important to understand and learn how to prevent falls in the elderly.

What are the causes of falls in the elderly population? Elderly people may have such health impediments as impaired vision and hearing which can make a fall more likely, particularly if their living quarters aren’t well lit or they have furniture or other objects which can be easily tripped over. The elderly also have a higher incidence of osteoporosis which can increase the risk of falling. They tend to be frailer with reduced muscle mass which is another cause of falls in the elderly individual. One of the most important and often overlooked factors that can increase an elderly person’s risk of falling is medications.

Is an elderly member of your family taking medications for high blood pressure? If so, he or she may be at an increased risk for falling. A Dutch study performed in 2007 showed that discontinuing certain medications in the elderly reduced their incidence of falls by half. (British Journal of Pharmacology 2007; 63:232). Medications that are most likely to increase the risk of falling include high blood pressure medications, sleep medications, and drugs taken for psychiatric problems. Since many elderly people are being treated for high blood pressure, antihypertensive medications can be a significant cause of falls in the older population.

What can be done to prevent falls in the elderly? The first step is to determine if your elderly family member is taking medications such as blood pressure pills which may increase the risk of falling. Schedule an appointment with their doctor to determine whether any of these medications could be changed or discontinued. At the same time, your doctor can check the elderly person’s visual acuity to see if this is a factor that can be corrected to reduce the incidence of falls. Any underlying medical problems that may be contributing to falling can also be addressed.

Once health and medication related causes for falling have been corrected, it’s important to do a review of the elderly individual’s living quarters. Any areas of clutter should be cleaned up and loose objects removed. Handrails should be placed in rooms so that the elderly person has support when walking. Adequate lighting should also be installed. There should also be ready access to a phone and appropriate phone numbers in case of an emergency.

Don’t let your elderly family member be a victim of a nasty fall. Understand the causes of falls in the elderly and how to prevent them and you can help your elderly family member spend their final years in a healthy and safe manner.

by Kristie Leong M.D. – Featured Health & Wellness Contributor

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