Fall Prevention Awareness Key To Reducing Older Adult Injuries

The first day of fall, September 23, marks Falls Prevention Awareness Day and Southeast Georgia Health System is encouraging people to learn more about how to prevent fall-related injuries that affect older adults.

According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.

Fall prevention methods and staff education regarding fall risks is a top priority at Southeast Georgia Health System. “We use evidence-based training tools with our nursing staff to prevent falls with our patients that are at high risk. Patients that are considered a fall risk wear yellow gowns and yellow wrist bands,” explains Ernie Stegall, RN, MHA, director, Nursing Administration. “In addition, a yellow light visual cue indicator is above the patient’s door so the staff knows to take specific precautions to prevent a fall.”

The fear of falling can make it difficult for an older adult to stay active, which can take a serious toll on their quality of life and independence. But falls are not an inevitable part of aging and there are proven ways to prevent them. Exercising, managing medications correctly, and making the living environment safer are just a few tips. Stegall adds, “When physicians recommend that a patient use assisted devices such as a cane or a walker, they should continue to use them at home as well.”

Here are some common factors that can lead to a fall:

  • Balance and flexibility: As we age, most of us lose coordination, flexibility and balance primarily through inactivity, making it easier to fall.
  • Vision: In the aging eye, less light reaches the retina making contrasting edges, tripping hazards and obstacles harder to see. New research suggests hearing loss can also contribute to the risk of falling.
  • Medications: Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall.
  • Environment: Most seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and have never thought about simple modifications that might keep it safer as they age.
  • Chronic conditions: More than 90% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, stroke or arthritis. Often, these increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain or multiple medications.

The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented. Here are six easy steps to reduce the risk of falls:

  • Find a good balance and exercise program: Look to build balance, strength and flexibility. Find a program you like and take a friend.
  • Talk to your health care provider: Ask for an assessment of your risk of falling. Share your history of recent falls.
  • Regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist: Make sure side effects aren’t increasing your risk of falling. Take medications only as prescribed.
  • Get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eyeglasses: Your eyes and ears are key to keeping you on your feet.
  • Keep your home safe: Remove tripping hazards such as throw rugs, increase lighting, make stairs safe and install grab bars in key areas.
  • Talk to family members: Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Falls are not just a seniors’ issue.

It is important to take action once you begin to experience mobility difficulties, falls, or instability. Your doctor can provide a fall risk assessment or refer you to a physical therapist who can recommend appropriate exercises for you.

For more information about Fall Prevention Awareness, visit sghs.org/fall-prevention.