Minimizing Falling Risk
To avoid falling, it helps to understand the specific risks in older adults. Jenny Sanford, an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and Caregiving Coach based in New York City, advises, “Because falls are one of the leading causes of life-altering adverse events in older adults, fall prevention is one of the single most important topics to address with this population.”
A balanced gait requires freely moving joints and muscles that contract appropriately with enough strength to support an individual’s body weight. Even accurate visual, vibratory, and proprioceptive input is important for a standard gait and balance. However, joints stiffen and muscles weaken over time. Neurologic feedback loops also change over time, so older individuals are slower to react to a slip. All these physiologic age-related changes, along with other risk factors, increase the likelihood of falls.
The strongest independent risks associated with falls are physical weakness, gait and balance impairments, psychoactive medications, and previous falls. As you may imagine, dizziness and visual and cognitive impairment can play a role. Women and all adults over 80 are also more statistically prone to falling. Other factors include:
- Urinary incontinence
- Polypharmacy arthritis
- Undertreated pain
- Polypharmacy (simultaneously using multiple drugs to treat a single issue)