Do you have a loved one who is a little unsteady on their feet, has a history of falls, or is too “stubborn” to use a cane or rolling walker? Here is a quick list of tips to help keep their home as safe as possible.
Mary Lehnen, PT, DPT and Laura Flanigan, MSOT, OTR/L
Why is fall prevention important? Physical and occupational therapists frequently treat patients whose injuries were caused by a fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for adults who are 65 years and older. Falls can lead to serious nonfatal injuries, including fractures of the head and hip. A fall on an outstretched hand, also known as a “FOOSH” injury, can lead to fractures and soft tissue tears of the hand, wrist, forearm and even the shoulder. Falls can be emotionally traumatic to some patients and they may avoid participating in exercise, leisure and necessary daily activities due to fear of falling. This can lead to deconditioning, isolation and negatively impacting an individual’s overall well-being and independence.
Falls in older adults are a significant concern in all of healthcare. Fall death rates have increased 30 percent from 2007 to 2016.1 Every year, 3 million older adults are treated in the emergency department for fall related injuries.2 Patients who experience falls can become trapped in a cycle where they are afraid of falling and limit their activity leading to greater deconditioning and increase their risk for subsequent falls. Medicare mandates that patients who are over the age of 65 should be screened annually for falls by a healthcare provider. In states with direct access laws, physical therapists may be the only medical contact that the patient has in a calendar year. We can be the first to find out if patients are at a risk for falls and proactively address their deficits.
The fall season is almost over for 2019, but for adults over the age of 65 the fall season never ends. According to the National Council on Aging, one out of every four older adults fall each year and of those seniors who fall, every 11 seconds they go to an ER. What’s even more alarming is that every 19 minutes someone dies from a fall related injury. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in senior citizens.1