According to various studies conducted by Clarity, AARP, MetLife and others, older adults fear loss of independence even more than death. According to the Clarity study loss of independence was at the top of the list out of the five fears most expressed by people 65 and older who were living independently.
During the Clarity study 89% of the participants stated that aging in place was very important. Over half were also concerned about their ability to do so. Surprisingly 53% thought health problems would prevent them from aging in place. The rest believed (26%) that memory problems would be the issue or (23%) the inability to drive or get around is what would rob them of their independence.
However according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year 1 of every 3 adults age 65 or older falls. Less than half of them talk with their healthcare providers about it. Perhaps if they did they would learn that reducing falls can greatly increase their opportunity to remain independent. That’s because falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults 65 and older. There were 2.5 million older adults treated for nonfatal falls in emergency departments in 2013 and more than 734,000 of them hospitalized.
Timothy Govel, a pharmacist at Northern Dutchess Hospital and a member of the Body in Harmony balance evaluation team, said a fall often is life-changing for seniors and their families. The resulting loss of already diminished muscle mass and changes in a senior’s physiology from the stress of recovery can cause severe consequences.
“Unfortunately, within six months to a year, most seniors suffer a dramatic decline in active daily living functions and approximately half will experience another fall,” Govel said by email.
Statistics, he said, show falls are responsible for 87 percent of fractures in seniors, 25 percent of all hospital admissions and 40 percent of all nursing home admissions, with 40 percent of those admitted unable to return to independent living.
According to the CDC we can take signification actions to prevent and reduce falls. They suggest the following:
You can play a role in reducing falls. Encourage the older adults in your life to:
- Get some exercise. Lack of exercise can lead to weak legs and this increases the chances of falling. Exercise programs such as Tai Chi can increase strength and improve balance, making falls much less likely. Home Sweet Home Care loves Conductorcise and has the DVD’s available in their resource library for checkout.
- Be mindful of medications. Some medicines—or combinations of medicines—can have side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness. This can make falling more likely. Having a doctor or pharmacist review all medications can help reduce the chance of risky side effects and drug interactions. Home Sweet Home Care suggests a Brown Bag Review on a regular basis.
- Keep vision sharp. Poor vision can make it harder to get around safely. Older adults should have their eyes checked every year and wear glasses or contact lenses with the right prescription strength to ensure they are seeing clearly. Home Sweet Home Care would add that there are other vision issues that may need to be addressed. Make sure you are aware that glasses and surgery cannot always improve elderly vision. With a goal of reducing falls every possible vision issue should be explored.
- Eliminate hazards at home. About half of all falls happen at home. A home safety check can help identify potential fall hazards that need to be removed or changed, such as tripping hazards, clutter, and poor lighting. Home Sweet Home Care has a Home Safety Checklist you can download and use to increase safety in the home.
It is imperative that significant effort be put toward reducing falls so that independence remains attainable. Often a few modifications around the home make a world of difference, such as adding hand rails to bathrooms and stairs. Consider a ramp outside instead of steps and replace the tub with a walk-in version. Do you have any suggestions on other methods that will help reduce falls? We would love to hear from you.