Do you know a senior who has suffered a serious fall? Likely you do, since approximately 30% of seniors who live in the community suffer a fall each year. The consequences of a fall can be quite serious—injury, hospitalization, even death from complications.
Did you know that falls are the cause of 90% of all hip fractures, 50% of all injury-related hospitalizations in seniors, and the 5th leading cause of death in the elderly?! These numbers also double when a senior has dementia. So, it is extremely vital in keeping seniors strong and steady on their feet.
Why do seniors fall in the first place?
“Falling isn’t as much about slips and trips. It’s about the failure to recover. Slips and trips happen at all ages” (Dr. George Fernie). There are various external factors at play that contribute to slips and trips; such as:
- Loose carpets/rugs
- Poor lighting
- Unstable chairs
- Steep stairs
- Poor footwear (e.g. slippers)
While some falls can be attributed to tripping—such as tripping over floor mats, pets or curbs—other falls seem mysterious. The person will report that they just went down and we're not sure why. In many of those mysterious cases, the fall is due to internal factors such as:
- Visual and hearing deficits
- Vestibular dysfunction
- Cognitive impairment
- Neuropathy (abnormal sensory feedback)
- Low blood pressure
- Pain and foot drop
- Weakness and tightness
- Decreased flexibility
- Slowed reflexes and balance disorders
- What can we do to prevent falls?
1. Get rid of all the external factors that cause slips and trips!
Ensure that your living space has no loose carpets or rugs, the lighting is bright for increased visibility, all chairs are sturdy with armrests, everything needed is on the main floor (no stairs), and that proper footwear is worn in the house.
2. Improve balance and stability!
“She says she wants to keep living in her home. We say it starts by keeping her on her feet” (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons). The number one key to fall prevention is staying active! Physical activity has shown to mitigate the deathly consequences of falls – just walking, gardening or housework is enough for an elderly loved one.
However, when your elderly loved one refuses to do regular exercise the best option is to increase their base of support.
To remain balanced, there must be a stable base of support—the wider the base of support the more stable it becomes. The base of support is the invisible box that can be drawn around your feet when you are standing. Added to this is our centre of mass—which is approximately where our belly button is located.
When someone’s centre of mass is in the middle of their base of support, they are perfectly balanced. When their centre of mass begins to reach the outer edge of their base of support, they are more prone to falling.
For example, a ballerina narrows her base of support to be only one square inch when she is en pointe. Her balance is quite precarious because her base of support has been reduced. The only way that she remains upright is by perfectly hovering her centre of mass over her base of support. She is constantly adjusting to ensure that her centre of mass doesn't sway too far aware from her base of support.
In contrast, a football player crouches low and spreads his feet wide so that he has a wider base of support than he normally would. He may even put one hand to the ground adding a third point of contact and expanding his base of support further. He has a stable base of support, and his centre of mass is positioned in the middle of his base.
In the case of a frail senior, their feet may ache or have bunions, causing that person to only walk on the edges of their feet, which reduces their base of support and their balance. Instead of using the full surface of their foot, they have reduced their base of support more like a ballerina. As well, the senior’s posture may be more forward-leaning, pushing the centre of mass to the outer edge of the base of support, causing instability. A senior will not likely be crouching down to touch the ground for support, the way a football player does.
The best way to create a strong base of support is to use a walker. The four wheels of the walker expand someone’s base and provide the necessary support. Much like a football player, a well-balanced senior using a walker is less likely to fall than a senior who is precariously balancing on sore feet. If their posture is forward leaning then the walker extends the base of support ensuring that the centre of mass remains in the middle of the base of support.
Encourage the seniors in your life to carefully assess their centre of mass and base of support to ensure that they are as safely balanced as possible. Every fall that is prevented is a great success and ensures a longer and healthier life for that senior!