What Really Causes Falls in Older Adults?
It is widely believed that older adults fall because they slip or trip on something. In a study conducted by Simon Fraser University in 2012 and released in the “The Lancet”, showed that only a small proportion, about 3% of falls are caused by slipping or tripping. While forward walking, sitting down and standing quietly were activities that most commonly preceded a fall. These functions accounted for around 41% of the falls people had while the study was being conducted.
Many companies working with seniors offer fall prevention programs, but is prevention realistic? If someone were to come up with an idea to prevent people from falling, there would be an end to the many broken hips or other injuries that hospitals all over the nation treat on a daily basis because a person has fallen. Actually, it is about helping a person to become aware of why they fall so he/she can take action to correct the activity or behavior that may cause him/her to fall.
Balance, shifting of body weight and incorrect transfer from sitting to standing or vice versa is the real cause of most falls in older adults and is a result of poor judgment or over correction of body movements while walking or transferring from one activity to another. If I had a dollar for every time I have reminded a person to walk into their walker while moving about the building I would be a very rich woman. Though many people think an older person simply can’t react quickly enough to break a fall—or may not know they’re falling until it’s too late to prevent it—researchers discovered that was not typically the case.
Lessoning the risk of falls in older adults is more about maintaining upper body strength and balance awareness. When a person chooses to move to a long term care setting, they often give up doing things for themselves and are encouraged to allow care givers to do things for them. As providers of care for older adults it is our duty to ensure that independence is maintained as long as possible and ways for residents to exercise is provided so that body strength can be maintained. Programs should also be available to explain how the body works with gravity and to provide specific exercises such as Tai Chi that improves balance. In addition classes that provide brain training to improve focus and attention are key to minimizing falls.
Cathy Parkinson CQSW
United Methodist Retirement Center