Fall prevention strategies for seniors — they’re not what you think


August 28, 2022

Falling is not a normal part of aging, yet it injures many seniors each year. Here are our tips for fall prevention in the elderly.

Falls are the number one cause of geriatric trauma. From hip to head injuries, falls can disrupt life and build fear. Each year, 2.8 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But here’s the deal. Falling is not a normal part of aging. That myth perpetuates a vicious cycle of fear and then, less activity, which can actually lead to a fall, and then, lead to more fear.

More than one out of four people fall each year and fewer than half tell their doctors about it, according to the CDC. Even with no injury, these people may become fearful and therefore, less active.

Breaking the cycle might start with understanding that curtailing activity and staying home doesn’t help prevent falls. Most falls happen in the home. Physical activity is a crucial part of fall prevention for seniors. Activities such as strength and balance exercises are highly recommended to improve balance.

“Try a tai chi or Stepping On class for balance,” said Cathy Wilson, MSN, RN, ACNP-BC, Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s trauma outreach/injury prevention coordinator. “As muscles get stronger, especially in the core, you may be able to stop a fall.”

Stronger muscles can make everyday things such as getting up from a chair or playing with grandchildren easier. Lower-body exercises help improve balance.

Wilson also recommends regular vision exams and talking with a doctor about medications and their side effects. In the home, good lighting and fall-proofing are important.

“Survey the home. Make sure there’s no clutter in walkways or scatter rugs,” she said. “Add grab bars in the tub, and check the lighting at the top and bottom of stairs.”

Some people may dislike the idea of walking aids, but they can aid independence.

“Many don’t like the image of a quad cane or walker,” Wilson said. “Consider a walking stick as there are some pretty cool ones out there. Even an umbrella touch to the ground can help.”

For families, she suggests fall prevention aids like nightlights could make great gifts. “It may sound corny, but it is really helpful,” she said. “Fall prevention should be a team thing. Even decorating a walker for a family member makes a difference.”

While prevention is key, some falls may happen anyway. In that case, falling the right way might lessen the chance for injury.

“If possible, try not to lock knees or elbows and continue to roll and go with the fall,” Wilson said. “Think about bending and not being so rigid as you go down.”

Here are few suggestions from a professional stuntwoman. Our instinct is to stop the fall by throwing out our hands, but if we go with it, bent, we might avoid breaking bones.