Picture the following scenario:

Grandma is in the kitchen preparing her dinner. She starts working away near the kitchen sink, preparing her favorite recipe. Grandma missed her lunch hour dose of medications that included statins to reduce her cholesterol. As she starts to wash her vegetables, she hears the phone ring. She turns off the faucet, wipes her hands dry and as she scurries to pick up the phone. As she has exerted herself to prepare dinner, and then dashes to the phone, she suddenly feels weak and her muscle movement feels laboured. She misses a step and immediately falls to the floor. She is unable to gain strength and feels a sharp pain to get herself up.

Such scenario-based falls, while unintentional, tally up as the most common cause of nonfatal injuries for people older than 65 years of age1. In the United States, 32% of ones over the age of 65, (living in community-dwelling homes) encounter a fall yearly2. Such non-fatal, fall-related injuries create a significant impact on overall hospital costs and care (in 2000, estimates reached a total of $19 Billion dollars3).

What can seniors do in order to prevent a fall from happening in their residences? Here are a few suggestions that may help and prevent an unnecessary visit to the hospital:

  1. Exercise. There are many various simple yet effective strength-based exercises one can do, even leg exercises5 conducted for a minimum 15-30 minutes a day could be beneficial4. Why? Exercise helps keep the muscles and bones as strong as possible. It’s even good for one’s mental well-being. Also, by keeping the body moving, such simple exercises will aide with improving balance and may act as the difference between a minor or major injury (for example, the difference between a deep bruise versus a significant fracture). Many community homes will offer group exercise and balance classes or similar therapies; so be sure to sign up – it’s good for you!
  2. Make your surroundings ‘fall proof’. Assess your surroundings. What could be obvious and not so obvious tripping hazards? For example, are there electrical cords that could be tucked away on the floor? Furniture accents or décor that could be put away from main walkway areas? If there are loose items can they be safely secured or cables that can be fastened to the floor? Also explore alternate walking routes to avoid for example, stairs, where a potential fall could occur. Work with a care aide or family member as a second pair eyes and perhaps share suggestions or solutions.
  3. Increase Vitamin D and Calcium. One laboratory study show signs that taking larger dosages of Vitamin D and Calcium reduced the risk of fracture by 26%6. By taking Vitamin D and Calcium, studies have suggested it may slow overall bone loss. This may prove critical if a fall does indeed occur, it could reduce its severity.
  4. Get support from family or care providers for medication adherence. There is a common saying ‘an ounce of prevention….’ – sometimes the waning signs of a future fall can be captured at a much earlier time. An individual may be taking medication and suffers symptoms such as dizziness, headaches or sight disturbances. Check with your doctor or pharmacist what solution can be investigated, including adjusting prescriptions and/or asking for more support to stay medically adherent with current prescribed medications.

References:

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2653/ In the United States, unintentional falls are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries for people older than 65 years.

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2653/ Up to 32 percent of community-dwelling individuals over the age of 65 fall each year, and females fall more frequently than males in this age group. Fall-related injuries are the most common cause of accidental death in those over the age of 65, resulting in approximately 41 fall-related deaths per 100,000 people per year.

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2653/ Based on data from 2000, total annual estimated costs were between $16 billion and $19 billion for nonfatal, fall-related injuries and approximately $170 million dollars for fall-related deaths across care settings in the community.

4 https://www.livestrong.com/article/522381-how-often-how-long-should-the-elderly-exercise/

5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2653/ Researchers have explored several other individual prevention strategies, including fall prevention clinics, exercise interventions with leg strengthening (e.g., Tai Chi), vitamin D supplements, home visits for safety evaluations, cataract surgery, and cardiac pacing. Falls and balance clinics present a promising community-based solution to the problem of falls…Exercise-related interventions are by far the most commonly studied individual community prevention strategy. Most of this research indicates that exercise is beneficial for patients, and some research demonstrates that exercise regimes that involve leg strengthening and balance training, such as Tai Chi, are most effective.

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2653/ Laboratory studies indicate that calcium and vitamin D reduce bone loss, and a growing body of work is examining the ability for vitamin D supplementation to prevent fractures in individuals who are vitamin D deficient. A meta-analysis performed by Bischoff-Ferrari and team revealed that larger doses of vitamin D supplementation (700–800 IU/deciliter) reduced the risk of fracture by up to 26 percent. Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Willett WC, Wong JB, et al. Fracture prevention with vitamin d supplementation: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JAMA. 2005 May 11;293(18):2257–64. [PubMed] [Reference list]