Preventing Falls and Facilitating Aging in Place
If you are over the age of 65, preventing falls is the best way to ensure that you are able to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. For many people, “quality of life” is directly tied to staying in the home where they have spent years raising families and creating memories. Unfortunately, falls are an all too common occurrence among seniors that make it impossible to stay in their homes and live independently. Some of the statistics concerning falls and the elderly are staggering:
- One third of all adults over 65 falls each year
- Falls are the most common cause of death among seniors - In 2009, over 20,400 seniors died from fall injuries
- 95% of hip fractures are the result of falls
- 20% of hip fracture patients dies within a year of their injury
- 25% of hip fracture patients can no longer live independently after their fall
This means that not only are seniors extremely susceptible to falls, the results are often catastrophic.
Seniors who suffer a major fall also suffer from debilitating psychological effects. Around 50% of people who have survived one fall report that the fear of another fall has resulted in self-imposed restrictions. Typically, this means limiting their activity, which can actually increase the risk of falls by weakening muscle and joints.
For most seniors, a fall is the result of a combination of contributing factors. Environmental obstacles like electric cords, uneven pavement, or other common hazards can precipitate a fall, and additional physical factors often increase the likelihood of an injury producing fall. Common symptoms of aging like a in decrease balance, muscle weakness, vision impairment and a change in gait can also significantly contribute to preventable injuries. Finally, variety of other more serious medical conditions and prescription drugs are also major factors when it comes to the high number of seniors who suffer damaging falls.
First and foremost, regular exercise is the best way to increase balance, maintain muscle mass, and prevent falls, but scientists are also exploring ways that technology can help. At MIT, Erez Lieberman has been working on perfecting the iShoe insole, which would help identify balance problems. The insole is designed to collect specific data about each patient and in the future, the product may even be able to use sensors to instantly correct problems.
While this technology is still being developed and tested, a variety of other in-home monitoring devices are currently available that can keep track of normal activity and alert family members or caregivers of any behavioral abnormalities. For instance, a notification will be sent out if a patient hasn’t taken their medication or gotten out of bed. Unfortunately, these systems can’t necessarily prevent falls, but they can help ensure a quick response time if something does go wrong.
There other, practical and affordable, alternatives available on the market that can prevent falls. A simple lift chair can safely guide a user to a standing position and allow him or her to securely gain their balance before they step away from the chair. Many lift chairs also feature infinite position recliners that can be fully extended to a Trendenlenburg position, which can help direct blood flow for those with low blood pressure, yet another cause of dizziness and potential falls.
For the majority of seniors, the bathroom can quickly become the most hazardous room in the house. Hard tiles surfaces can easily become wet and slippery just in the course of normal use; combine that with tubs and toilets that require users to raise and lower their own body weight, and you have the potential for a life changing fall. Walk-in bathtubs and bath lifts are two tools that can help increase safety in your bathroom. Stairs can also present an especially challenging obstacle to seniors, yet most stair lifts are easy to install and far less expensive than moving out of your multi-level home. The same rings true for walk-in tubs which come in a variety of conversion kits that won’t even require you to replace your entire tub.
Aging in Place
For seniors who are interested in aging in place, preventing falls should be their biggest priority. This may mean making simple lifestyle changes, like exercising more and doing weight bearing exercises to increase balance, muscle mass, and bone density. It may also mean investing in technology like lift chairs and other accessibility equipment that can help you avoid falls. As with most problems, a comprehensive and proactive approach is best and will help ensure that you have the option of aging in place.