Elderly Woman With Walker

Preventing Falls

Just as she reached to place her iPhone on its charger, Martha, 88, tumbled to the floor. She broke her hip and couldn’t get up. Martha (not her real name) remained on the floor for hours until her worried daughter turned up to check on her.

Researchers call this a “long lie,” an instance where the older adult ends up on the floor, unable to call for help for more than an hour. It happens to up to 20 percent of older adults who fall. A long lie can traumatize an older adult, lead to dehydration, trigger a strong fear of falling and, ultimately, a loss of independence.

Even with all the advances in life-alert and fall-detection technologies, Martha’s ordeal is not that uncommon. Martha always wore an Apple Watch, and carried her iPhone everywhere, to call for help in the event of a fall. But when she fell, both devices just happened to be out of reach.

“The potential for falls, understandably, is a major concern for many of our senior clients and their families,” said Brian Levy, Chief Relationship Officer for Cambridge Caregivers.

Leading Cause of Death

Falls represent the leading cause of injury and deaths from injuries among people 65 and older. Every second of every day in the United States, according to the CDC, an older adult suffers a fall. Over the course of a year, about one in four of all older adults will fall. While most just end up with bruises, about 3 million will go to an emergency department.

Many age-related factors contribute to older adults’ tendency to fall. People lose muscle mass as they age. Reflexes are slower. Balance becomes impaired. Medications, or combinations of medication, can cause dizziness. Conditions like Parkinson’s or orthostasis (a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing) can trigger falls. Even vision loss and hearing loss can contribute to the risk.

A Cascade of Problems

When they do fall, older adults are more likely to sustain injuries. Physicians use the term “fragility fractures,” where factors like osteoporosis contribute to a broken bone as much as the fall itself. Typically, they’re ground-level falls that would not cause significant injury in a younger person.

A serious fall can trigger a cascade of problems that lead to permanent disability or death. Older adults who are hospitalized for a fall often have underlying conditions, making complications more likely and recovery more problematic. Being confined to bed, even just for a few weeks, can cause muscle loss or pneumonia. Hip fractures—about 95 percent of which are caused by falls in older adults—are especially problematic.

Prevention Measures

Prevention is the best way to avoid falls. Simple steps to help prevent falls include:

  • Monitoring medications that might cause dizziness or affect balance, with a physician’s guidance.
  • Regular exercise, such as tai chi or yoga, which can strengthen balance and help prevent falls.
  • Removing fall hazards, such as electrical cords or loose rugs, from the home.
  • Checking vision and hearing regularly.
  • Wearing closed-toe shoes that are secure on the foot (no flip-flops or slip-ons.)

Members of the Cambridge Caregivers team are trained in techniques to safely assist an elderly client in getting out of a chair or out of bed safely, and to look for and address any fall hazards they may notice in the home. That includes paying attention to details. If the client uses a walker, for example, caregivers know to make sure it’s set up correctly, with wheels properly aligned and at the correct height.

“It’s so important to have a care team in place — doctors as well as trained caregivers – working together, because avoiding falls is essential in keeping a senior safe and healthy,” Levy said.

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