Caring Currents

Fall Prevention: Take Steps to Keep Seniors Steady

Last updated: Oct 23, 2008


When former first lady Nancy Reagan or Barack Obama's grandmother take a tumble or two, as they have this year, it's all over the national news. And yet across America every day thousands of ordinary older adults slip or stumble and wind up with broken bones, nasty bruises, or -- worse -- disabling brain injuries .

Falling remains a widely underaddressed yet pervasive problem for the elderly. In the past we've pointed readers to useful fall prevention strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence , and highlighted some high-tech home interventions that may keep an elder upright.

My colleague at, Kate Rauch, also revealed in a recent post that some older folks keep falls secret -- and looked at why they stay mum. Her blog dovetails nicely with an article in Aging Today, in which former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Aging Fernando Torres-Gil, a post-polio survivor who walks with the aid of a cane, talks about the psychological, emotional, and attitudinal shift that seniors and their caregivers must face to deal with this sleeper health concern.Torres-Gil notes that the elderly need to be able to admit to themselves that:

  1. I am potentially vulnerable.
  2. I could fall.
  3. I have to accept that it's not a safe world out there.
  4. I need to set aside my own pride and sense of independence, accept that vulnerability, begin to act on it, and plan and do the necessary adaptations.

Got all that? Torres-Gil also acknowledges that often seniors who fall -- especially men -- become so unnerved that they isolate themselves because they're afraid of falling again, which can lead to depression , which is a risk factor for...yep, falling.

But the assumption that aging leads to frailty, which inevitably leads to falls, isn't an accurate one, say fall prevention experts. Most incidents can be avoided with some advance planning.

Here, tips to help an older adult avoid a fall:

  • Watch the short video The Good News on Fall Prevention by health professionals from Seattle Pacific University. This solid primer covers the four main areas -- exercise , home safety , medications , and vision -- of any individual's fall prevention plan. The person you're caring for may not want to hear this drill from you, so let the experts do the job.
  • Find a fall prevention exercise program for seniors. They're popping up all over the country, including model programs such as A Matter of Balance , Easy Tai Chi , and Stepping On . Check with a doctor to see if such classes or similar ones are available in your family member's area.
  • Review the fall prevention resources at the Home Safety Council , including an assessment chart for a quick check on whether your family member's home is set up to stave off a mistep.
  • Investigate whether the Medications Management Improvement System , which uses database screening and intervention by pharmacists to reduce medication errors in patients at high risk of falling, is appropriate for the elder in your care.
  • Check out the list of products and other resources from Fall Prevention Advisors, a New Jersey-based company run by physical therapists, who penned two relevant books on the topic: Fall Prevention: Don't Let Your House Kick You Out and Fall Prevention: Stay On Your Own Two Feet .

On a lighter note: The BBC reported recently that an innovative Japanese company has gone beyond grab bars and guard rails and dreamed up an airbag for the elderly , designed to help stop them from injuring themselves when they topple over. There's one minor kink: The product doesn't protect folks who fall forward.

Details, details. Given the silver tsunami, I bet other cutting-edge corporations are investing engineering energy into developing something that solves this problem, too. Let's hope it saves seniors from a forward fall without turning them into the Michelin man in the process.

Photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon used under the Creative Commons Attribution license .