“I am afraid of falling.” Five heartbreaking words older people use to reason why they have withdrawn and become completely immobilized. The fear is real but prioritizing fall prevention and improving quality of life can be as easy as strategic interventions from an occupational therapist.
Nobody wants a senior to be fearful of leaving their home due to anticipation of a fall. Or stop performing the basics like walking or bathing because of fall insecurity. Occupational therapy is an individualized solution that assesses the person and their environment, creating a sustainable plan to help shake off negative feelings and get moving again.
Why are Seniors at Risk for Falls?
The most common answer – age. Age-related issues such as loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia), problems with balance and gait, and blood pressure changes are all considered common risk factors. Additionally, vision impairment, medications, or mild cognitive impairment can contribute to an overall feeling of insecurity and negatively impact mobility.
Risk Factors for Falls
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Fainting or loss of consciousness
Vision and hearing impairment
Bladder and bowel conditions
Any one of these risk factors should raise a warning flag. A combination of several is best addressed with the services of an occupational therapist. An occupational therapy practitioner possesses the skills needed to evaluate and address the person, their activities, and their environment to maximize independence.
How Does an Occupational Therapist Help with Fall Prevention?
An occupational therapist starts with the client and caregiver(s) to address fall prevention. Starting with a review of the home environment, the occupational therapist looks for hazards and physical limitations that contribute to falls and recommends interventions to target improvement. Improving physical abilities through exercise, modifying the home, and changing activity patterns are common strategies to support fall prevention.
What’s Worse: The Fall or the Fear of Falling?
Fear of falling can be both a cause and consequence of falling. If a senior maintains a consistent fear of falling, they are likely to self-limit or avoid activities that they are still capable of doing. They will experience decreased physical activity which, in turn, contributes to an increased risk of falling.
Fall prevention strategies with an occupational therapist take the fear head-on and proactively address the senior’s individual and specific concerns. For example, are they afraid to sleep in bed because they fell one night when attempting to walk to the bathroom? An occupational therapist will focus on bed mobility, nighttime bathroom patterns, and safety to increase confidence in their ability to move from the bed to the bathroom at night.
Factors in Fall Prevention
Intrinsic factors include the health concerns of the person.
Lower extremity weakness, impaired balance, and cognitive impairment are considered intrinsic factors that can be addressed by occupational therapy. These factors in combination with urinary incontinence, sensory impairment, or side effects of medication can also increase the fear of falling. Intrinsic factors can be addressed with strategies designed to reduce their negative impact on the senior’s overall quality of life.
Fall prevention can be addressed by managing extrinsic factors in the home.
Extrinsic factors including throw rugs, lighting glare, clutter, raised thresholds, and even the presence or absence of handrails can be managed in the home. It’s easy, right? Just fix or remove the object that is creating a fall risk. Outside the home, these risk factors are an uncontrollable obstacle. That’s why the strategies of an occupational therapist include empowering older adults to be successful in all environments.
5 Tips for Fall Prevention
- Keep moving
- Wear sensible shoes
- Remove home hazards
- Light up your space
- Use assistive devices
1. Exercise can go a long way toward fall prevention.
Gentle exercise, including walking or tai chi, can make a big difference in improving balance, strength, and coordination. If a senior avoids physical activity due to a fear of falling, they can work with an occupational therapist to reframe their thoughts. This fall prevention specialist will create programs appropriate to their abilities and allow them to experience success and reduce risk factors that stem from fear.
2. Change up your shoe habit.
Those slip-ons may be super cute, but they are most definitely a trip hazard for some! High heels, flip-flops, and shoes with slick soles can cause a slip, stumble, or fall. There is an equal risk with stocking feet. Consider changing out your footwear for proper fitting, sturdy, flat shoes with nonskid soles. Comfort can still be fashionable.
3. Clear the clutter and make space for safety.
Any home can be full of unintentional trip hazards. From throw rugs to electrical cords and loose floorboards, the home environment of a senior at risk of falls needs to be carefully evaluated by a fall prevention specialist. An occupational therapist can make recommendations that positively improve safety while thoughtfully preserving the treasures accumulated over a lifetime.
4. Don’t underestimate the effects of good lighting.
Don’t be afraid to light it up! Good lighting is a quick fix to avoid tripping on items that are hard to see. Place nightlights in hallways and the bathroom and keep a lamp within reach of the bed. Also, consider switching out traditional light switches for glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches.
5. Assistive devices are smart home must-haves for seniors.
Assistive devices for seniors have never been cooler. Canes and walkers are being glammed up and customized to make assistive devices the next hot trend in senior living. Did you know there are Pinterest pages dedicated to Jazzy Walker Ideas? Smartwatches detect walker and wheelchair use and Wi-Fi- enabled pill minders dispense doses on time and send alerts for missed medications. With the availability of all these great gadgets, why compromise quality of life with a fear of falling?
How Do I Know What Strategies Will Work for Fall Prevention?
An occupational therapist is the expert who puts all the strategies together to create positive change. Locating a local occupational therapist is easier than you think and they come directly to the home. Individualized attention in the home helps this fall prevention specialist create a plan specific to the senior and their home environment – first-hand observations make all the difference!
Can I Learn How to Fall Safely?
A Certified Falls Prevention Specialist can apply the latest advances and research in falls prevention training. With a comprehensive risk assessment to identify the root causes of a fall, they can follow up by integrating multiple approaches including gaze stabilization, vestibular rehabilitation, and environmental modifications. Through education with an occupational therapist, you can learn the mechanisms of a fall and how to adjust the body to fall safely.
An occupational therapist takes the time to understand the person, the caregiver(s), and the challenges they are facing together to create a fall prevention plan. Their expertise and specific skill set are just a couple of the reasons Occupational Therapists are one of the Resources We Love. Read more about Occupational Therapy in the Resources Section of our Blog.