Among the domestic accidents that threaten the health and independence of elderly individuals, falls pose a significant daily danger. Falls can have multiple causes and it is important to be aware of them in order to minimize them and find solutions to secure the living environment of our seniors. Let's review the main factors that can trigger falls in elderly individuals and the prevention measures available.
Even a minor fall can have serious consequences in the life of an elderly person. Immobilization for a certain period or even being forced to stay in the hospital, even for treatable fractures, can lead to a decrease in the person's independence later on. With age, it becomes much more challenging to regain perfect mobility, and many seniors become more dependent following a fall. Therefore, fall prevention is the best way to preserve the independence of elderly individuals. To do this, it is important to examine the risk factors that can contribute to falls.
The first common cause of falls in elderly individuals is balance disorders. Elderly individuals may be more susceptible to balance issues, especially when transitioning from a sitting to a standing position or during walking when sudden weakness is experienced. These balance issues can have various causes:
- Visual difficulties and eye fatigue.
- Inner ear problems.
- Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and multiple sclerosis.
- Orthostatic hypotension or a drop in blood pressure during exertion.
- The use of certain medications.
Regarding medications, several types of treatments have been identified as exacerbating balance problems and thus increasing the risk of falls. These medications typically include:
- Some pain relievers, incontinence medications, and antiepileptics. Medications in this category often affect the nervous system, leading to sedative effects that can create or worsen memory or motor function issues.
- Some antibiotics and cytotoxic drugs used primarily in cancer treatment can cause dizziness leading to a loss of balance.
- There is also a wide range of medications for various conditions that can cause or exacerbate fall risk factors. Examples include antimalarials or antiarrhythmics that can disrupt heart function, certain laxatives or diuretics, and medications that can lead to anemia, muscle and tendon weakness, or heart rhythm disturbances.
- Some medications that affect the cardiovascular system, such as medications for hypertension, antiparkinsonian drugs, or antidiabetic medications.
Any medication use should be carefully evaluated in light of potential side effects, especially in elderly individuals. It is recommended to consult with a healthcare provider regularly to reassess the need for treatments and the possibility of reducing the dosage to account for the increased risk of falls.
The second common cause of falls in elderly individuals is osteoporosis and bone fragility. It is estimated that osteoporosis is responsible for nearly 400,000 fractures each year in France and is often linked to falls in the elderly. The World Health Organization defines osteoporosis as "a systemic skeletal disease characterized by low bone mass and microarchitectural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to an increased bone fragility and susceptibility to fractures."
However, osteoporosis is not inevitable, and it is possible to halt or even reverse its progression by adopting the right strategies. Prevention is also crucial, and it is possible to prevent its onset through physical exercises tailored to the individual, adequate intake of vitamins and minerals essential for bone health, reducing chronic inflammation, and maintaining a sense of balance. It is also important to pay attention to the quality and quantity of sleep, which represents a significant risk factor for osteoporosis and many other diseases.
Addressing the various possible causes of falls in elderly individuals to reduce them is essential for proper care both at home and in nursing homes. It is also important to make adjustments to the living environment to enhance safety. This may include removing furniture that could become dangerous obstacles, installing support bars, and potentially equipping the home with electric stairlifts and other home care solutions that can preserve our loved ones' lives and independence.
Falls among elderly individuals are a genuine public health concern. While the government has decided to take action, such as adopting its fall prevention plan, we can all play an important role for ourselves or our loved ones by participating in information campaigns, remaining vigilant, and adopting the right measures to secure the environment and the home of elderly individuals.
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