For more information, visit www.legacylink.org.
No one wants to think about the day his or her mobility will no longer be what it once was.
But for the one in three adults ages 65 and older who will experience a fall every year, sometimes just going to the restroom in the night can be a hazardous undertaking.
“Generally falls in the elderly are very dangerous because they cause a lot of damage to the hips,” said Dr. Arif Patni, a family physician with the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group in Buford. “The most common area of injury is the hips.”
The most common injuries that result from falling are lacerations, hip fractures and head traumas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These injuries can severely limit an elderly person’s ability to get around and thus lessen his or her quality of life.
Falls in the elderly can have a variety of causes besides general aging. Many elderly persons are on a variety of medications, which can impair their balance.
“As a physician, every time a patient comes in, we review all their meds and make sure all those are really needed,” Patni said. “We ask ‘Can we do something to reduce the amount of medications they are on?’”
Many elderly adults are on sedative medications, which can increase their risk of falling. Frequently, they also are prescribed blood thinners, which can make injuries from a fall even worse.
A big hazard with falling might not even be the fall itself.
“In terms of other complications of falls, what happens is that the patients then become very agitated and anxious. It’s very hard for them to live on their own,” Patni said.
Lisa Howard, the wellness coordinator at Legacy Link in Oakwood, is in the process of training individuals to give workshops on fall prevention and safety to the elderly. Legacy Link is responsible for advocacy of seniors, planning, and administration of programs, coordination and monitoring services in Northeast Georgia.
While a fear of losing independence is common, Howard stresses to all her workshop attendees the importance of talking with a physician should an elderly person experience a fall.
“We encourage them to talk to their doctors, because a lot of people don’t want to talk to people if they fell,” Howard said.
A fear of falling can also be its own predictor of misfortune, something Howard addresses in the workshops.
“We talk about the fear of falling,” Howard said. “Sometimes that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re afraid of falling, you might limit your activity and then you aren’t social and you aren’t active and so your muscles get weak and you might fall.”
Patni encourages his patients to take inventory of their surroundings to ensure nothing can become a tripping hazard.
“When they walk through the room, do they have to walk around furniture for example, because that can get in the way of them getting up in the middle of the night to go to the restroom,” Patni said. “I ask them if they have thick, shaggy carpet and if they have any rugs on the floor, because they’ll trip on that.”
He also recommends taking supplements of vitamin D and calcium to strengthen bones and muscles. Regular physical activity, even just a walk up and down the street, can go a long way to preventing muscle atrophy that will make a fall even worse.
“I recommend to (my elderly patients) stretching exercises for muscle strengthening and balance,” Patni said. “Those are very important.”
Howard’s recommendations include setting up a buddy system, just to make sure if an individual does fall, his or her injuries aren’t exacerbated by a long time spent waiting for help.
“People can lay on the floor for days if nobody is going to come and check on them,” Howard said. “We also talk about setting up a buddy system, like with your neighbor or a family member, someone to contact you, so if they don’t hear from you then they’ll know to send help.”
Whether it’s talking to a physician, a family member or attending a workshop like those facilitated by Legacy Link, Howard wants the elderly population to know how far a little knowledge goes to preventing a fall from ever occurring in the first place.
“It’s not a natural part of aging, but it’s preventable,” Howard said.