Safety for Older People: Best Practices in Fall Prevention

Falling and fall prevention are major issues for elderly Americans. Nearly 2 million older individuals are treated for fall related injuries every year. About 15,000 people in the United States over the age of 65 die from fall related injuries annually. Approximately 50 percent of all older individuals living in facilities fall annually and require medical attention and even hospitalization.

This article is presented to have a candid discussion about falls and safety for older people. The intent is to present the best practices in fall prevention.

Risk Factors for Falls by Older Individuals

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified primary risk factors for falls by older individuals. These are:

  • Poor vision
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Impaired mobility
  • Difficulties in movement
  • Weakness
  • Medications

Elements of an Effective Fall Prevention Program

When it comes to the best practices in fall prevention for older individuals, plans and planning are imperative. There are five elements that should be included in a comprehensive (and ultimately effective) fall prevention program, according to the CDC. These five elements are:

  • Medication reviews and medication modifications as needed
  • Modification of environmental factors that increase fall risks
  • Use of assistive devices as needed
  • Exercise and strength training to enhance mobility
  • Education of older adults to reduce fall risks

National Institutes of Health Fall Interventions

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has identified eight specific interventions that should be given top priority when it comes to the best practices in fall prevention. These eight interventions can be used in private residential settings, retirement communities, assisted living residences, and other public spaces:

  • Focused exercise and strength training regimes
  • Physical therapy, rehabilitation, and training for specific balance and gait impairments
  • Comprehensive medical diagnosis and treatment focused on neuromuscular, musculoskeletal, and sensory impairments thought to cause falls
  • Adherence to conservative guidelines for use of what technically are known as hypnoticanxiolytic drugs
  • Improved vision care and updated lens prescriptions
  • Modification of environmental risks in the home
  • Behavioral/educational interventions focusing on risk awareness and risk-taking behaviors
  • Multiple risk factor interventions

Specific Tactics for Older Individuals in Regard to Best Practices in Fall Prevention

There are a number of specific tactics for older individuals recommended by the National Institutes of Health as part of a comprehensive protocol of best practices in fall prevention:

  • Stay physically active
  • Have hearing tested regularly
  • Have sight tested regularly
  • Understand side effects of medications
  • Get enough sleep
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Stand up slowly
  • Use assistive device if unsteady walking
  • Take care walking on wet surfaces
  • Be careful walking on icy surfaces
  • Wear non-skid shoes
  • Always tell your primary care physician if you’ve fallen since last appointment

What to Do if You Fall

The best practices of fall prevention include the promulgation of a plan to follow if you fall. Again, it is the National Institutes of Health that has been highly helpful in crafting a meaningful strategy for an older individual who has fallen:

  • A fall can be upsetting and startling. Simply put, you may understand the reality that falls can happen. However, you typically do not expect a fall when it occurs. Therefore, if you fall, it is important to try and stay as calm as possible.
  • Immediately after a fall take several deep breaths.
  • Try to relax.
  • Remain still on the ground or floor for a few moments. Remaining still for a bit is helpful in aiding you to overcome any shock you may be experiencing.
  • Try to determine if you are hurt before you try to get up. Bear in mind that getting up too quickly of getting up in the wrong way can make an injury worse (and sometimes significantly so).
  • If you think you can safely get up without help (and without aggravating an injury) the next step is to roll onto your side.
  • Rest again in this position until your body and blood pressure adjust.
  • Slowly get up on your hands and knees and crawl over to a sturdy chair or similar object.
  • Put your hands on the chair seat and slide one foot forward until it is flat on the floor
  • Keep you other leg bent so that the knee is on the floor or ground.
  • From this position, slowly begin to rise.
  • Turn your body so that you can sit in the chair.
  • If you are hurt and cannot get up on your own, ask someone for assistance or call 911.
  • If you are alone, try to get in a comfortable position without moving too much and wait for help to arrive.
  • Carry a cell phone with you at all times, even when you are moving about your own home. This makes it far easier to call someone if you need help. 
  • Consider getting an emergency response system. This type of system provides you with a special necklace or bracelet that has a button you can push in the event of an emergency. 

Paying heed to the information in this article on best practices in fall prevention and associated materials can be invaluable to an older individual. It also can be of great assistance to an individual who assists in provide care to a older person.