Falls Risk & Prevention

Background Information

Falling can be a scary threat or reality, especially as we get older. There are tons of statistics that show that falls are a major problem in our society and can have significant negative impacts on us. HOWEVER -- there is a LOT you can do to reduce your risk and keep yourself safe, active, and independent!

Falls Statistics from the CDC
  • 1 out of 5 falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury
  • Each year, 2.8 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries
  • Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture
  • Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling
  • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI)

Keep reading to learn more information and help identify your risk of falling as well as great steps that you can take to reduce your risk and prevent falls!
 

Risk Factors

  1. Fear of Falling
    • The number one risk factor for falls. Fear causes us to change how we move which can lead to a decrease in balance and control. This can apply to fear of falling in general or in specific situations when there is ice or snow on the ground. The best way to fight back against fear is to learn how to reduce your risk. Take a look at some of the other common factors and see if there are ways you can reduce your risk and therefore your fear. If you continue to experience fear, don’t hesitate to reach out to our physical therapy team for some additional help!
  2. Muscle Weakness
    • In the older population, people with weak muscles are more likely to fall than those who maintain their muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance. The good news is, it’s never too late to get stronger! Research shows that regardless of age, muscle can be trained and demonstrate improvements in strength. Simple things like staying active by walking or riding a stationary bike, as well as some basic resistance exercises can make a big difference! Get in touch with our physical therapy team or check out your local silver sneakers fitness classes for assistance.
  3. Balance
    • Balance and gait - especially speed of walking- is a huge determinant of fall risk. Slower reflexes can result in increased reaction time which can make it harder to catch your balance. Older adults who have poor balance, decreased reaction time, or difficulty walking are more likely than others to fall. These problems may be linked to a lack of exercise, a neurological cause, arthritis, or other medical conditions and treatments. The good news is, balance can improve with practice! Daily completion of simple balance challenges in a safe environment can significantly improve confidence and coordination with walking and other activities and reduce your fall risk.
  4. Orthostatic Hypotension
    • This condition (also known as postural hypotension) involves a sudden drop in blood pressure with change in position, such as going from seated to standing. Some may experience dizziness with a rapid change in blood pressure, however that isn’t always the case which can make it challenging to recognize the signs. A simple action to reduce the risk of falling is to slow down and pause for a few seconds after standing before you begin to walk. 
  5. Foot Problems
    • Painful feet, and wearing unsafe footwear can also increase fall risk. Backless shoes and slippers, high-heeled shoes, and shoes with smooth leather soles are examples of footwear that could increase the likelihood of a fall. Choosing sturdy shoes with good traction can go a long way toward reducing your risk!
  6. Sensory Problems
    • Reduced foot sensation or reduced vision can make it difficult to be aware of your environment. Foot numbness may interfere with the sense of where you are stepping and could contribute to your fall risk. Visual difficulties can also result in falls. It may take a bit for your vision to acclimate after moving between darkness and light, so make sure to slow down and wait for your eyes to adjust before you keep walking. Other vision problems contributing to falls include poor depth perception, cataracts, and glaucoma. Schedule a visit with your eye doctor if you are concerned about your vision. Making sure you have the best glasses for your individual needs and have addressed other treatable eye conditions can go a long way in reducing your fall risk!
  7. Medications
    • Certain medications, even when appropriate and necessary, can have side effects like dizziness or confusion. The more medications you take, the more likely you are to fall. People who take four or more prescription drugs have a greater risk of falling than do people who take fewer drugs. If this is a potential concern for you, please check with your doctor, especially if you think your medications are causing dizziness or unsteadiness. Your doctor can tell you which medications, including over-the-counter, might cause these problems and adjust as needed. NEVER change your medications without speaking to your doctor.

 

Tips for Prevention

Most falls happen at home. There are a lot of simple steps we can take to decrease the risk of falling at home by making small changes to our environment. Here are a few ideas:

  • Remove loose rugs
  • Arrange furniture to give you plenty of room to walk freely
  • Remove clutter on the floor or stairs
  • Put non-slip strips on floors and steps
  • Avoid carrying heavy or bulky things up or down stairs
  • Have and use stair railings, even if you don’t think you really need them
  • Improve lighting: use night lights in the bathroom, hallways, bedroom, and kitchen
  • Install handrails and grab bars, especially in the bathroom
  • Move items to make them easier to reach, especially commonly used items
  • Be physically active
  • Limit alcohol use
  • Avoid wet floors and clean up spills right away.
  • In the winter, take more steps and take your time when walking outdoors, or choose to avoid walking outdoors after a significant snowfall or episode of freezing rain.

Consider the use of assistive devices and equipment to help reduce the risk and/or fear of falling. Items like canes and walkers can help improve mobility and reduce the risk of falling. Reachers and grabbers can limit the need to bend and reach and reduce the risk of losing your balance. Cell phones and life alert systems are great tools in case of a fall in order to quickly and safely get assistance.

Not everyone needs assistive equipment, but it can often come in handy, especially in certain situations. Never be embarrassed or ashamed to employ assistive equipment -- it might just save you a trip to the hospital! One of the largest barriers to individuals getting benefit of assistive equipment is understanding how to use it properly. Contact us a see one of our physical therapists for an appointment by emailing info@bmechanics.com or call one of the following phone numbers.

Milwaukee (414) 224-8210

Pewaukee (262) 695-3057

 

Put your new knowledge and strategies to work!

As you can see, there are many ways to reduce your risk of falling. Many of these are things you can implement right now, so don’t hesitate to get started. If you have additional questions or concerns, reach out to your physical therapist, we are happy to help whether you need formal treatment, a simple tutorial on how to best choose and use an assistive device, or want to learn some balance and strengthening exercises to keep you moving, strong, and independent!

 

References:

https://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls/aboutfalls/01.html

https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html

bodymechanics locations

DOWNTOWN MILWAUKEE
807 N. Jefferson
Milwaukee, WI 53202  (map)
414-224-8219

PEWAUKEE
1177 Quail Court | Suite 200
Pewaukee, WI 53072  (map)
262-695-3057