How to Know Your Fall Risk and Protect Yourself From Injury
Fall injuries are common, especially among adults over age 65. Approximately one senior in the United States experiences a fall every second. It is the leading cause of injury death in older adults. One out of every four seniors in the U.S. fall annually.
The problem isn’t isolated – it’s a public health concern.
Around 36 million falls are reported annually among older adults, with 32,000 resulting in death. Emergency rooms treat 3 million seniors for fall injuries each year with 300,000 hospitalized for hip fractures. Over 95% of all hip fractures are caused by a sideways fall.
Women tend to be at a higher risk than men for falls, making up around 3/4ths of all hip fractures.
Older people also tend to take longer to heal, which makes fall injuries a bigger concern. When an elderly person falls, they usually have a hospital stay that’s twice as long as those of their peers who are admitted for other reasons.
The risk of a fall injury increases as we age. This occurs because our bodies don’t work quite like they once did. Muscles tend to lose strength and our eyesight tends to wane, making it more likely to trip and fall.
Physical limitations can also force a person to overexert themselves, which further increases fall risk.
Staying in shape is a good way to help counter these changes, but it isn’t a guarantee. Even a senior who is in excellent condition can be just as likely to fall as other older adults. They are still prone to the common changes that come with aging.
That’s why it is important to know your fall risk and take steps to protect yourself from an injury. Avoiding a fall is the best way to stay healthy. Even if you are health conscious and physically fit, you still need to know the risks and how to avoid a trip and fall situation.
Assessing Your Fall Risk
The best way to assess your fall risk is with the help of your doctor. You should schedule a fall risk assessment. This usually begins with a series of questions about your health status and history. Your doctor will need to know about medical conditions or concerns you currently have.
You will be asked about any past falls as well as whether you have noticed changes in your ability to walk, stand, or balance.
Your doctor will perform a fall risk evaluation to determine if you have a low, moderate, or high risk.
Most doctors use the STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries) approach. You will be asked to perform a series of actions that test your balance, gait, and strength.
The “Timed Up and Go” or TUG test assesses your gait. You will be asked to sit in a chair and then stand up, walk approximately 10 feet, and sit again. Your doctor will time you. If it takes more than 12 seconds, then you may have a high fall risk.
You’ll also be asked to perform the 30-second Chair Stand test. You’ll sit in a chair again, this time with your arms crossed over your chest. When your doctor tells you to begin, you will stand up and sit down again, repeating the process for 30 seconds. Your doctor will count the number of repetitions you can do in that time. If the number is low, then you may have a higher fall risk.
The third part of the fall risk assessment is the 4-Stage Balance test. You will be asked to hold four different positions for 10 seconds each. The first involves standing with your feet side by side. Then you’ll be asked to move one foot halfway forward followed by one foot fully in front of the other. The last position involves standing on one foot.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual fall risk assessments for adults over age 65. People who have a high risk may need additional evaluations, treatment, or may need to consider extra support like assisted living.
How to Avoid a Fall Injury
It is impossible to eliminate the risk of a fall. Even young children can fall and injure themselves. However, there are steps you can take to minimize risk and stay as safe as possible.
If you have a moderate to high risk, you should consider what adds to that risk. Do you have medical conditions that could be better managed to protect yourself? Do you live a sedentary lifestyle causing your muscles to weaken? Do you take medications that increase your fall risk?
Consider all these factors when deciding what to do to protect yourself.
Stay in Touch with Your Doctor
Your doctor is a valuable resource when it comes to your health. Stay in touch with them and make sure you follow the recommended screening schedule. Your doctor can advise you if you need more frequent tests to monitor for changes.
Keep your doctor in the loop when making lifestyle changes or if you experience any difficulty or challenges related to physical or mental health.
Live an Active Lifestyle
Staying active is good for you in general. Keeping muscles strong and your body limber will help you avoid a fall. It can also help you react more effectively if you end up tripping or losing your balance.
Remember to be careful and use senior-friendly exercises when getting fit. Doing too much too fast will make you vulnerable to injury. Your doctor can recommend good exercise options based on your age, ability, and body condition.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Never ignore your body when it tells you something is wrong. New aches and pains indicate a problem. Even if the cause isn’t concerning, the discomfort will increase your risk of a fall. For example, backaches may not be uncommon, but they can alter the way you stand and move – which could cause you to lose your balance.
Talk to your doctor right away if you notice changes. Even if it is something minor, they may be able to recommend a solution to alleviate the problem or adapt to avoid a fall.
One of the reasons many seniors move into assisted living communities is safety. These places are designed to minimize fall risk with senior-friendly designs, railings, grab bars, and non-slip surfaces. They also have staff on hand to provide support and assistance as needed. Assisted living makes it much easier and more convenient to remain as independent as possible without raising your fall risk.
If you have questions about safety and assisted living, let us know. Visit Vista Living Senior Care now to see how we help older adults live their best lives without increasing their fall risk.