Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Philadelphia

Fall Prevention

Have you ever turned down a chance to go out with family or friends because you were concerned about falling? Have you cut down on a favorite activity because you feared you might fall? You’re not alone, and your fears are certainly legitimate. Up to 30% of community dwelling adults fall each year, and about 20% of falls cause physical injury. Falls are the leading cause of injury among seniors and a leading cause of death. And for many seniors, an injury caused by a fall can be the start of more serious problems. “Falling is the biggest threat for older adults to maintain their independence,” says Mary Jo Baldino, RN with Neighborhood Health Agencies, Inc. For many seniors, the fear of loss of their independence causes them not to do many of the things, such as going to church or lunching out with friends, that are why they value that independence.

Falls, especially among seniors, usually aren’t caused by just one issue. It’s a combination of things coming together that causes a senior to fall. A senior’s eyesight, hearing, and reflexes might not be as sharp as they are in younger people. Health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and problems with the thyroid, nerves, or blood vessels can affect balance, which plays a big part in preventing falls. As well, some medications can cause dizziness, and medications which do not ordinarily cause dizziness can when taken in combination with other medications. Something simple like not getting enough sleep can make you more likely to fall, and even a small amount of alcohol can affect your balance and reflexes. And if you’re not exercising, your lower body might get so weak that you’re much more likely to fall.

All of that might sound depressing, as though you can’t do anything to prevent a fall. But that’s simply not true. It is reasonable to be concerned about falling, of course; safety is important. One-third to one-half of older adults acknowledge a fear of falling. But fear of falling can be just as dangerous as falling itself. People who develop this fear often limit their activities, which can result in severe physical weakness, making the risk of falling even greater. Many older adults also experience increased isolation and depression when they limit their interactions with family and friends. Fear of falling is a risk factor for falling, independent of any of the other risk factors. Falls are not a natural part of aging, but being afraid of falling can make you feel older, more frail, and generally dissatisfied with life.

A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns About Falls is a program designed to reduce the fear of falling and increase activity levels among older adults. During the program, participants learn to view falls and fear of falling as controllable, to set realistic goals for increasing activity, to change their environment to reduce fall risk factors, and to promote exercise to increase strength and balance. Any senior can benefit from the program, especially those who are concerned about falls, have sustained falls in the past, restrict activities because of concerns about falling, and are interested in improving flexibility, balance and strength. Participants in A Matter of Balance report increased confidence in talking walks, climbing stairs, and carrying bundles without falling. They also report that they have more confidence that they can increase their strength, find ways to reduce falls, and protect themselves if they do fall.

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