Common Advice to Prevent Falls Has Been Proven to Be Ineffective

Q. I am 72 years old and my 95-year old mother, Annie, lives with me. There have been quite a few times this past year when my mother has fallen, and we had to call 9-1-1 for help. We have tried every bit of advice that we could find such as taking an exercise class, getting her vision checked, ceasing the use of medications for sleep, and installing grab bars in the bathroom, but these things have been little to no help. Do you have any additional information about helping a loved one who is prone to falling?

A. A nationwide increase in falling deaths is happening, and it’s a major cause for concern. While falls might not cause immediate death, they can lead to other fatal health problems. Recently, new research says that what people are doing to prevent falls is largely ineffective, and a more personalized approach needs to be taken.

By 2030, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) projects that 49 million older adults will fall each year, resulting in 12 million injuries and more than $100 billion in health-related spending. According to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly three times more adults ages 75 and older died from falls in 2016 than in 2000; and the rate of fatal falls for seniors over 75 has roughly doubled.

The steep increase in fatal falls is alarming especially given national, state and local efforts to prevent these accidents. Here’s why there has been an increase in falls among older adults:

  • Living longer: Older adults are more vulnerable because they’re living longer with conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Effects from prescription medicine: Sleeping pills, pain pills, and a lot of the prescription drugs that older adults have been taking over the years have played a role in an increased risk for falling.
  • Previous falls: The CDC says that people age 65+ have a greater than 25% chance of falling. If someone falls once, their chance of falling again doubles, meaning there’s over 50% chance of a second fall.

A lot of older adults and a lot of physicians think that falling is inevitable as you age, but in reality, it’s not. The risk of falling can be minimized!

Preventing Falls Requires a Personalized Approach

According to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, what is currently being done to prevent falls isn’t working. What’s needed is a more personalized approach to preventing falls, more involvement by medical practitioners, and better ways to motivate older adults to take action. Here are some tips based on these new recommendations:

  1. Speak up. If you or a loved has had a fall or is a fall risk, speak openly with your healthcare provider about fall risks and prevention. This is even covered by your Medicare annual wellness visit. See below for more details!
  2. Get a personalized fall assessment plan. A fall assessment performed by a physician should identify risk factors that are specific to you as well as ways to address them.
  3. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines.
  4. Start a personalized exercise program. Consider an exercise program that addresses balance, for example. Some are specially designed for older adults who are frail, some for those who are active, and still others for those in between. “If a senior goes to a program that doesn’t meet his or her needs, it’s not going to work out,” said Mindy Renfro, associate professor of physical therapy at Touro University in Nevada.
  5. Get your home evaluated by an occupational therapist: Occupational therapists can evaluate homes and suggest changes to reduce your chance of falling. Ask your physician for a referral.
  6. Be careful during transitions. Older adults coming home from the hospital or starting new medications should be especially careful about falling, because they may be weak, deconditioned, exhausted, and/or disoriented.
  7. Rephrase the message. If your loved one is falling, don’t patronize them. In research studies and focus groups, older adults report they don’t like negative messages surrounding falls from their adult children, such as “(y)ou can hurt yourself badly or die if you don’t watch out.” Instead, seniors respond better to messages such as “taking these steps is going to help you stay independent,” Elizabeth Burns of the CDC said.

Talk to Your Physician About Falls

When you join Medicare, you become eligible for a “Welcome to Medicare” prevention visit, during which doctors should evaluate your chance of falling. (This is a brief screen, not a thorough examination.) Subsequently, seniors are eligible each year for a Medicare annual wellness visit, which offers another chance for a physician to assess your fall risk.

Helpful resources

For caregivers, it takes a lot of work to help an older adult reduce their risk of falling. To help with the discussion, the CDC put together a fall prevention package in an initiative called STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries). You can go to their website and find helpful information to reduce risk for falling. For more helpful resources, please see today’s Critter Corner by Hayek the dog.

When Taking Preventative Measures Isn’t Enough

When taking preventative measures isn’t enough, assisted living or nursing home care may be needed for your loved one. But, take heed that nursing homes in Washington, D.C., Fairfax, Virginia, and the rest of Northern Virginia can cost as much as $150,000 per year or more, a catastrophic amount that can quickly lead to financial ruin!

Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting you or your loved ones from having to go broke paying for nursing home care, while also helping ensure that you or your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation.

Elder Law Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law Attorney DC: 202-587-2797

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.