Fall Prevention in the Senior Population

January 19, 2018

Image Credit: kare11.com

 

Older age sets increasingly stronger constraints on the type and extent of physical activity one undertakes. As seniors become less physically active, they also become more prone to falling, as the balance, vision, muscle strength, agility and other aspects of physical health start notably declining.

Let’s touch upon the reasons why falling is so common in the geriatric population and what the contributing factors are. We’ll also discuss the consequences, but the emphasis will on the more positive matters – such as the ways to prevent falling – and there are some inventive methods that have appeared in the recent years.


Contributing factors and complications

Some of the factors commonly considered contributors to increased risk of falling in the geriatric population are:

  • Lack of activity: gradual loss of control over the body and coordination due to general inactivity;
  • Medications: the more medications one takes with age, the more crossover effects may occur, causing dizziness and other side effects that lead to a loss of balance;
  • Chronic conditions: the vast majority of adults over 65 years of age have at least one chronic condition that often results in some loss of bodily function;
  • Vision: a decline in vision is practically inevitable with age.

The combination of these factors predictably leads to an increased risk of falling, which, in turn, is more dangerous for seniors than for their younger counterparts. Hip fractures and other broken bones do not set as easily as in younger patients due to frequent osteoporosis and other issues that are typical of old age. Even if an injury is not a major one, there’s a much longer recuperation period, and the consequences may be devastating, leading to an even greater loss of mobility and an increased fear of falling. In fact, in the United States falls and their complications are the leading cause of death and injuries in older adults. One in every four 65+ adults sustain a fall every year, and many of these accidents can be prevented.


Prevention: basic and advanced

Conducting timely vision checkups, increasing the illumination in the place of dwelling, ensuring the safety in the bathrooms and on staircases, installing medical alert systems at the home of your loved ones are all very important in preventing falls and alleviating possible consequences. However, there’s another crucial step to be taken – regular physical activity is indispensable in instilling a feeling of physical self-assurance and decreasing the fear of falling that plagues many people after a certain age.

Aside from regular types of activities, many of which are altered to fit the senior population, such as yoga or stretching for seniors, there are now activities designed exclusively for the aging population, which address their specific needs, such as fall prevention courses.

 

The Leusden experience

One such example is set by the obstacle course developed and implemented in the Leusden, Netherlands. The concept of this course, which is held three times per year and gathers eager retired students is based on the premise that the fear of falling itself is in itself a risk factor that increases its probability.

During a falling course such as this one, physical and occupational therapists teach their students how to avoid falling by training them on the simulated obstacles that are most often encountered in the real world. They are taught to sit down and stand up in the safest manner, walk on various kinds of uneven surfaces that imitate loose tiles, soft ground, or other treacherous kinds of terrain. Walking on angled ramps, slalom-like strolls around cones, and other fancy footwork contributes to the retention of control over one’s body. And there’s a whole lesson every week dedicated exclusively to falling properly in order to scale down the possible damage if a fall does occur.


Future of senior obstacle courses

Besides providing actual physical training, such lessons take some of the psychological pressure off the fear of falling. Balance confidence, avoidance of obstacles, postural control and other physical benefits are statistically significant. Such courses are a fairly recent development, yet they’ve quickly become very popular across Netherlands, as well as in other countries, and certain insurance plans even cover some of the associated costs.

 

Fall prevention in the geriatric population is a multifaceted problem, but there are methods to safeguard and empower the growing senior population around the world. Obstacle courses fill a crucial niche, and, hopefully will gain more ground in the future as an inexpensive and all-around positive method of improving quality of life, lowering health care costs and yet another method of socialization.

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