Following the adage Knowledge is power can literally keep us from falling down.
In the U.S., one out of every three people over 65 takes a tumble each year, and 20 to 30 percent of those who survive incur moderate to severe injuries. Yet, those who have taken the time to assess the risk of falling in their homes are less likely to be in that one-third.1 It may not be surprising that, once someone has taken a spill, they inherently develop a fear that makes them more cautious about preventing another fall. For the majority of the population, thats a good instinct. But for seniors, it can make them withdraw from certain activities. Ironically, this new caution can increase their risk of falling again, particularly by preventing them from taking routine walks or another form of exercise.
To help address this phenomenon, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sponsored a study to measure whether a personalized program of intervention could help reduce the risk of an older person taking a fall. The program includes an in-home physical, emotional and cognitive functioning evaluation, a detailed record of a persons history of falls, an assessment of the home environment and an inventory of current medications that may impact the persons sense of balance. All of these factors are taken into consideration and used to create a customized recommendation for the individual.
Some risk factors are intrinsic, meaning they are linked to the persons health and habits. Other risks are extrinsic, which refers to those associated with the home environment.
As part of the study program, participating seniors are educated on both types of risks and how they may be avoided. For example, someone who routinely gets up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night may have been doing it for so long they do not need to turn on a light. However, as they age, their senses may not be as sharp and they may not notice a new obstacle in the path. Installing a nightlight to guide their path to the bathroom could be a simple solution that greatly decreases their fall risk.
Participants in the study who received intervention training and recommendations experienced a 13 percent lower rate of falls than ones who did not, and those who did experience falls were less likely to suffer a serious injury. Moreover, their long-term insurance claims were 33 percent lower over a three-year period, suggesting that this awareness may have had a long-term impact on both cognitive and physical health. This isnt terribly surprising, seeing as the study also found participants were nearly 20 percent more likely to make fall-preventing modifications to their home than nonparticipants.
1. ThinkAdvisor dot Aug. 3, 2015. Elders Risk of Falling Is Falling.Accessed Aug. 5, 2015.