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Published on January 10, 2019

Prevent falls and cut your hospitalization risk

A bad fall can injure anyone, but the harm can be even greater if you’re a senior citizen.

“In addition to a fracture, so many medical complications can come from falls,” said Ruth DaSilva, a physical therapy assistant with the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod.

“People can develop circulation and cardiac issues after a fall. I’ve had patients who fell in a tub, were there for several hours and developed pneumonia. It’s not just the fall itself that can harm you. That’s why fall prevention is so important.”

Older adults who were at-risk for falls were half as likely to have a fall-related hospitalization if they had a prevention program in place, according to a study done by researchers at Binghamton University, State University at New York, and published recently in The Gerontologist.

In the Binghamton study, people were considered to have an increased risk of falling if they met any one of these criteria:

  • Two or more falls in the past 12 months
  • One fall in the past 12 months with an injury
  • One fall in the past 12 months and gait and balance problems
  • Any gait or balance problems
  • If they had suffered an acute fall.

“Fall prevention activities such as raising awareness about fall risk, identifying individual risk for fall, discussing fall risk prevention strategies and providing referrals to fall risk reduction programs in the community for older adults were shown to reduce fall-related hospitalizations,” Yvonne Johnston, research associate professor at the Binghamton University Decker School of Nursing and corresponding author of the paper, said in a press release.

Family Awareness

Medications are among the things that can affect your risk of falling, said DaSilva.

“Sometimes one of the side effects is dizziness or light headedness,” she said. “Family members should be aware of those side effects.”

Family awareness of physical changes is also important, said DaSilva.

“Watch how your loved one is walking and moving,” she said. “Are they taking shorter steps? Are they shuffling their feet? Are they not able to lift their legs because of weakness?

“We can give them treatment and make them stronger, but it’s important for the family to maintain the balance and endurance training, so it’s not just a short-term effect.”

Creating a safer home

A key element to keeping your home safe, DaSilva said, is looking around the house for fall hazards. She offered these tips.

  • Getting out of the car: A home safety assessment begins when you or your loved one gets out of the car. Do you have to walk on grass, gravel or shells? If there are stairs going into the house, are you safe and is there a handrail?
  • Floors and Rugs: Cape Cod has many old farmhouses and antique homes. Are the floors even? Are there scatter rugs, which can be a slipping hazard?
  • Lighting: Is there appropriate lighting in the living room? If you watch television, are the remote controls within easy reach?
  • Phone Access: You should have a cordless phone you can carry with you or a cell phone. The phone should be programmed to call emergency numbers, including family members and 911. Purchasing a life-alert system, which allows you to call for help at a push of a button, can be very helpful.
  • Kitchen Access: In the kitchen, dishes, utensils and everything you need should be at an accessible height. You don’t want an elderly person stepping on a step stool to get something on the top shelf.
  • Bathrooms: The bathroom is the most dangerous place in the house, especially for an elderly person. Make sure there are grab bars and a nonskid mat in the bath tub, as well as tub seats or benches and a hand-held shower. Raised toilet seats help you stand up more easily, and a nonskid mat should be in front of the toilet. Make sure everything you need is on top of the counter, so you don’t have to bend over or reach too high to get things.
  • Night Lights: In the bedroom, make sure the telephone is easily accessible. Night lights will help you see where you’re going, if you get up at night. That prevents a lot of accidents.

For additional resources, DaSilva recommends talking to your primary-care physician, along with the VNA and your town’s council on aging or department of elder services.