We’re right in the middle of the winter months right now, which is the best time of the year to discuss fall prevention. Falling episodes are more common in the winter across all age groups, but particularly among seniors. Fortunately, there’s plenty that you can do to minimize the likelihood that you’ll experience a fall.
What Causes Falling Episodes?
Falling is actually a fairly normal part of the aging process. It’s sometimes caused by experiencing physical and cognitive changes that are a natural part of aging. You may find that walking, particularly over long distances, becomes more challenging. Everyday tasks, like dressing and bathing, may also become more difficult. Memory may not be as sharp as it once was, which can make it more challenging to do what once came easily.
In other cases, falling episodes are the result of a health event. This can include stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low vision, lymphedema (swelling of the arms and legs that results in fluid retention), post-surgical joint replacement or simply pain.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) lists five primary causes of falls:
- Balance and gait: Aging causes the loss of some coordination, flexibility, and balance— primarily through inactivity, which makes it easier to fall.
- Vision: As we age, less light reaches the retina—making contrasting edges, tripping hazards, and obstacles harder to see.
- Medications: Certain prescriptions and even over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall.
- Environment: If you’ve lived in your home for a long time, you may not have made simple modifications that might keep the home safer as you age.
- Chronic conditions: Chronic conditions, like diabetes, stroke, or arthritis, can increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or multiple medications.
The good news is that the NCOA also reports that most falls can be prevented.
Falling and Winter Weather
Winter can present special challenges for anyone who is prone to falling episodes. Snow and ice can obviously contribute to the problem. The longer nights that winter brings can also result in reduced visibility.
There are various strategies you can implement to minimize the likelihood of winter weather causing you to fall:
- Minimize going outdoors during the winter months, particularly if there is ice and snow on the ground.
- When you do go outside, avoid going after dark as much as possible.
- Go outside using the “buddy system” – never go outside without a partner.
- Wear appropriate footwear. Avoid smooth bottom shoes, and favor traction soled boots or even sneakers.
- Even if you don’t normally use one, consider using a cane or a walker when you go outside.
None of these strategies will guarantee that you’ll never fall. But they can reduce the chance considerably.
If You Experience Falling There is Help
If you’re experiencing falling episodes, you can get help in preventing or minimizing future falls. That help can come from rehabilitation services. Trained therapists can help you to gain greater independence by providing individualized care that will focus on your personal needs.
Some of the therapies that are available include:
Physical Therapy. This is a type of therapy that helps you to regain your strength as well as your balance. Therapeutic exercise programs can help to increase strength, muscle function, coordination, endurance and mobility. This will help to prevent falls and increase range of motion. It may even help to decrease pain, if that’s an issue. Physical therapy is often necessary if you experience of fall, sustain an injury, or undergo surgery.
Occupational Therapy. The word “occupational” conjures up thoughts of work, but when it comes to therapy this is more about helping you to safely and independently perform activities of daily living. This can include cooking, bathing and dressing. Therapies are developed to help you to adapt activities, or even modify your environment to make various tasks easier to perform.
Occupational Therapy can include sensory-motor treatments for strength, endurance, range of motion, coordination and balance. It could also include therapeutic activities for memory, orientation, and cognitive integration in the performance of daily life tasks.
Other therapies, such as respiratory therapy, are also available. They can be included in your treatment regimen if either is determined to contribute to falling events.
In some cases, falls may be caused by an underlying medical condition that can be corrected by a healthcare professional. For example, if vision is a problem, more appropriate corrective eyewear may be necessary. And since in many cases falling is the result of reactions to medications, reviewing those medications with your doctor may eliminate the cause.
Rehab Services at The Kensington
If you or a loved one are a resident at The Kensington, rest assured that we do provide rehabilitation services on-site through SOS Health. Their services provided include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and wellness services.
Services are tailored to meet the needs of each resident, including those with complex clinical diagnoses. One of the specific programs involves fall risk management. Contact our in-house rehab services, SOS Health, to arrange a consultation or simply ask one of our team members to help you get connected.