by Amandita Johnson, Certified Senior Advisor
Most elderly clients I serve as a Senior Care Advisor experienced a fall at one time or another. Some fell multiple times before I got a call to serve them. I wish this wasn’t so. Falls can contribute to decreased mobility, lower quality of life, or even unexpected death. In my profession, I constantly think about all aspects of aging and longevity and consider falls to be a major discussion point with families and clients.
The subject of falls is personal to me. Both my husband and I have parents who fell, contributing to their untimely deaths. My mom fell more than once at home and yet refused to hire caregivers. Fortunately, my brother lived close by and was able to pick her up and carry her back to her bed. In contrast, the police discovered my husband’s father, a veteran of the Vietnam War, two days after his fall during a welfare check. They found him lying on the floor. We will never know how he struggled to get help in those remaining hours of his life. He died of cardiac arrest, gone too soon.
Debunking Myths About Senior Falls
I find many older adults fear falling. As a result, some stop participating in active hobbies like dancing, hiking, or bird watching. Discontinuing favorite activities contributes to loneliness and isolation. For this reason, I spend a great deal of time debunking myths about senior falls. I want older adults to continue to engage in things they love, and to do so safely.
Myth #1: You can prevent falls.
This is only partly true. About 82 scientific studies discuss fall prevention. None of them say there is only one sure way or method to prevent falls. Of course, canes, walkers, grab bars in the bathroom, reducing clutter and other measures prevent or minimize falls.
Fall alert systems
How about fall alert systems? Medical devices to monitor or prevent falls have become quite common over the past few decades. Studies show many aging adults want to stay in their homes these days. As a result, they are more open to acknowledging new advances that help their autonomy. When it comes to fall detection technologies, older adults feel using these devices makes them feel safe. Personal emergency response systems or PERS enable individuals who fall to contact a crisis line simply by squeezing a button. While the PERS system is useful in many situations, though, it is useless if the person is unconscious or unable to press the button. A recent cohort study found that around 80% of older adults wearing PERS did not use their alarm system to call for help after a fall, even when help was available. That’s a scary statistic.
Many fall monitoring or fall prevention wearable devices are available these days. Some of them are PERS, Ambient Assisted Living, Ambient Intelligence, Smart shoes or socks, Apple Watch or similar smart rings, smart clothing, neural devices, and arm fall alarms. As technology improves, aging adults want less intrusive systems and the ability to always know what the system is doing.
Effectiveness of fall alert systems
Unfortunately, none of these devices are perfect and movements can set off the alarm unnecessarily. Nobody likes false alarms. Do we still use them despite the actual low effectiveness to prevent falls or possibilities of inaccuracies? Why not. This technology may save your life If you or your loved one is part of the 20% who can press the button immediately after a fall.
On the other hand, several studies show that technology encourages fall prevention. The challenge, however, is to create highly accurate unobtrusive devices. Keep in mind that we as humans can’t prevent falls. The use of tools and managing our environment will help prevent falls.
Myth #2: Falls are a part of aging.
It is not true that falls are just a part of aging. Yes, adults 65 and over experience falls as frequently as 28–35% more than others. These numbers highlight the need to develop effective and inexpensive ways to predict and prevent falls. However, not all aging adults end up falling. There is no reason to fear aging and to live a life anticipating a fall. Some of my clients made it to their 90s without experiencing a fall. It eventually happened after a significant health decline, about 6 months before they moved into a community, or they fell months before they passed away. Thousands of aging adults over 70 remain active and do many things they love. We know that participating in yoga, Tai Chi and ballet effectively is not only fun for older adults, but they also help prevent falls. These activities, which are growing in popularity, have muscle-strengthening effects that prevent or minimize the impact of falls.
Myth #3: Staying home avoids falls.
Staying home does not help people to avoid falls. In fact, the National Council on Aging reported that 60% of falls happen at home!
It’s important that a medical practitioner evaluate older adults with balance issues before falls happen. A wide variety of factors contribute to falls. For example, issues can be caused by medication, dehydration, loss of hearing, loss of eyesight, lighting, and muscle loss.
Perhaps there is a foot problem that a foot doctor can remedy quickly. For instance, the doctor may prescribe orthotics to support stability and balance. Or a conflict might exist between two or more medications that cause balance issues. It is important that people taking more than two prescribed and/or over-the-counter medications see their physician every six months.
Should older adults move to a retirement or assisted living community?
The chances of serious injury from a fall are drastically reduced when older adults move to a vetted community. Independent living situations employ precautionary safety procedures and apartments designed to prevent or reduce falls. Think about the results if the person falls at home alone versus being checked by a caregiver or staff in a community.
Some retirement homes offer devices and processes that alert staff to check if a resident has not left their apartment by a certain time in the day, in case something happens. Assisted living communities offer checking and care throughout the day or, if needed, 24/7. They can also assist with transfers if mobility is impaired. In-person assistance (sometimes by two people) is a huge fall prevention measure, and nothing can replace that.
The Bottom Line
Debunking myths about senior falls is important. The three myths discussed above are among the most important related to falling, but there are many more. Preventing falls and improving the quality of life for older adults are significant factors in reducing healthcare expenses. Reducing the number of emergency room visits, ambulance rides, and hospitalizations helps keep costs in check.
About the author: Amandita Johnson
Amandita Johnson founded Adagio Center for Aging, Inc. which owns CarePatrol of North Dallas, Adagio Retreat, and forms partnerships with senior service companies. She spent close to 17 years in health insurance in data analytics, levels of care, and managing a team of consultants. Dealing with her mom’s terminal illness and the effects of COVID-19 moved her to decide to serve the elderly. Amandita is a doctoral candidate in Health Sciences at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Her special research focus is on aging, longevity, and quality of life. A spouse of a retired veteran, she and her husband of 30 years have two young adult sons.
Amandita chose to research this subject as part of her doctoral program. She examined dozens of peer-reviewed journal studies about falls, fall prevention, and various technologies. Amandita is passionate about the safety, longevity, and quality of life of older adults. Email Amandita HERE with questions or for more information.
National Council on Aging. (2023). Get the Facts on fall prevention. March 13, 2023. https://ncoa.org/article/get-the-facts-on-falls-prevention
Chaudhuri, S. et al. (2014). Fall Detection Devices and their Use with Older Adults: A Systematic Review. Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4087103/
Gallagher et al. (2001). A fall prevention program for the home environment. Home Care Provider. 2001Oct. 6, 5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11581589/ Lu et al. (2020). Wearable Health Devices in Health Care: Narrative Systematic
Review. Journal of Medical Internet Research Mhealth Uhealth. 2020;8(11):e18907. https://mhealth.jmir.org/2020/11/e18907/PDF
Rucco, R. et al. (2018). Type and Location of Wearable Sensors for Monitoring Falls during Static and Dynamic Tasks in Healthy Elderly: A Review. Sensors. 2018, 18, 1613. https://doi.org/10.3390/s18051613
Shah, J. and A. Patel. (2018). Ambient Assisted Living System: The Scope of Research and Development.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326375130_Ambient_Assisted_Living_System_The_Scope_of_Research_and_Development
Wu et al. (2022). Emerging Wearable Biosensor Technologies for Stress Monitoring and Their Real-World Applications. Biosensors. 12(12), 1097. https://doi.org/10.3390/bios12121097