Senior Fall Prevention

Estimated  minute read

REP Physio's Fall Risk Assessments Can:

  • Identify those at risk of falling
  • Identify appropriate gait aids and assistive devices
  • Provide therapeutic exercises to improve strength and balance
  • Provide strategies on fall prevention

In Canada, for seniors and older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury.  Statistically, 20-30% of seniors experience 1+ falls each year.  Falls cause 85% of seniors’ injury related hospitalizations, and 95% of all hip fractures. Falls can result in chronic pain, reduce mobility, cause a loss of independence, and even death.  Strikingly, 50% of all falls causing hospitalization happen at home. Worse still, the average Canadian senior stays in hospital 10 days longer for falls than any other cause.

seniors-falls-in-canada-infographic

Balance and gait deficits, acute illnesses (especially urinary tract infections), osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease, cognitive difficulties and stroke are just some factors that affect fall risk. By far, muscle weakness is the most important risk factor for a fall. The panel of the American Geriatrics Society, British Geriatrics Society and American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found muscle weakness, typically linked to decreased physical activity, to be the most important risk factor, increasing the risk of a fall by four to five times.  

Fortunately, there are simple strategies and actions that can be taken by seniors, their family and caregivers, as well as their health care team (including physiotherapists and dietitians at REP Physio) to help minimize fall risk and the associated complications of a fall.

Risks for seniors in winter

Edmonton is known as a “Winter City” for good reason. Unfortunately winter also brings with it an increased fall risk-a leading cause of injury for seniors.  Winter weather conditions increase the risk of slips and falls as snow and ice can reduce underfoot traction, making it difficult for seniors (and all people) to maintain balance and execute effective balance recovery strategies.  Winter weather can also make the use of assistive devices (canes, walkers,) difficult.

The risk of falling and serious injuries associated with falling, especially in wintertime, can be minimized by ensuring walkways and steps around the home are cleared of ice and snow.  Routinely sand and/or salt heavy traffic areas around the home. When you encounter an icy area, walk slowly like a penguin (see image below) to minimize the risk of serious injury.  Additionally, the use of proper footwear and ice spikes for canes can also minimize fall risk. Make sure outdoor railings and steps are visible and in good working order. Lastly, be careful when shovelling snow to not hurt yourself!  For tips on snow shovelling, see our article here.

This guide also provide useful information on why seniors are prone to slips and falls, how we can mitigate the risk, and what are the steps for the person and also their family or caregivers if it does happen.

Walk like a penguin

Minimize fall risk within the home

Yes, you can help prevent falls! To minimize the risk of falls inside the home, make sure there is adequate space in entryways to avoid tripping over winter boots and gear. Remove throw rugs and other tripping hazards around the home as well. Install grab bars and/or additional hand rails where needed.  If your mobility is limited, ask loved ones and/or friends to help you install adequate lighting and identify other potential tripping hazards to help prevent future falls. 

There are also many smart devices on the market that can be worn that  identify when a fall has occurred and can call 911 if needed. If you do not have a smart device, proactively problem solve how you would call someone to get help in the event of a fall. Neighbours can also play a role in this as well. Speak to them about the appropriateness about doing a regular wellness check if you are comfortable having them in your home.  Lastly, ensure you are taking your medications (if applicable) as directed by your physician.

If you are unsure of what else can be done to minimize fall risks within the home, contact an occupational therapist who can provide suggestions on assistive devices that can help prevent falls. A good place to start would be ACOT.

If you, or a loved one is concerned about your fall risk, contact us at REP Physio.  Our expert physiotherapists are trained in identifying fall risk and balance impairments. Our assessment will also identify strength and mobility deficits and provide a specific therapeutic exercise routine aimed at improving function, maintaining independence, and minimizing fall risk.  Additionally, if proper nutrition can help improve function and strength, REP Physio offers an in-house dietitian that can address any dietary needs. 

What to do in the event of a fall

Following a fall, if you are able to safely get up, find the nearest chair to sit in. Perform a wellness check to assess your risk factors for serious injury as a result of a fall. Am I bleeding? Am I having difficulty breathing? Do I remember falling? Am I dizzy? Did I hit my head?  If able, immediately call your emergency contact and/or your health care professional if you have concerns about your physical wellness following a fall.

If there is considerable bleeding, if you have significant difficulty moving (or cannot feel) any of your extremities, or an extremity looks grossly deformed post fall,  and/or you are experiencing a severe headache, facial numbness, difficulty speaking,  call 911 immediately if able to get to the emergency department to rule out a severe life threatening injury. Following a fall, your physiotherapists at REP Physio in Edmonton can help you recover from your fall injury and improve your mobility and function to minimize the risk and severity of future falls.

The fear of falling is very real for many seniors. As we have learned, falls are a leading cause of injury for Canadian seniors. Fortunately, falls can be prevented. Having our seniors and their loved ones identify potential fall hazards within and outside the home is a good first step in preventing future falls. Secondly, improving muscular strength, mobility and balance with exercise programs developed by your expert physiotherapists at REP Physio in Edmonton can further mitigate fall risk while improving your function, confidence and independence.  

Have more questions about how REP Physio can help prevent falls?  Call us at 780 244 1095 or 780 395 9170.  Email us at info@repphysio.ca or westbrook@repphysio.ca

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