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A number of physical and mental conditions make older adults more likely to have an accident or fall. Below is a list of a variety of physical problems that can lead to falls and accidents. Along with each identified problem are some recommendations to implement to correct the problem or to lessen its likelihood of causing an accident of fall.
PROBLEM: Balance and Gait Problems
RECOMMENDATION: Gait and balance disorders increase your risk for falling three-fold, but they may be due to reversible causes. Depending on your situation, balance and gait problems may be corrected by treating the condition(s) causing them. See your physician. Your physician may order a neurological exam including gait analysis, a physical therapy evaluation for therapeutic recommendations and an orthopedic, foot, and footwear evaluation. You may also benefit by: gait and balance training; exercises to designed to increase your lower body strength; exercises such as Tai Chi; and assistive devices.
PROBLEM: Dizziness and Vertigo
RECOMMENDATION: Dizziness and vertigo may be due to a reversible problem. See your physician. Your physician may do a medical evaluation and a review of your medications, including prescription, over-the-counter and dietary supplements in order to determine whether this symptom is caused by an infection, dehydration, anemia or a medicine side effect. Your physician may also order neurological and vestibular evaluations. Depending on your situation, you may be treated for an underlying problem or you may be advised to begin an exercise program for benign postural vertigo.
PROBLEM: Fainting, Lightheadedness, and/or Irregular Heartbeat
RECOMMENDATION: Symptoms of fainting, lightheadedness and irregular heart beat may be due to an underlying problem. See your physician. Your physician may elect to do a cardiac evaluation or investigate a metabolic abnormality.
PROBLEM: Vision Problems
RECOMMENDATION: If you notice any vision changes or problems, contact your physician. See the table below identifying major causes of visual impairment in older adults. Your physician will want to have your vision checked. Depending on your situation, vision problems may be helped with corrective lenses, low vision aids, making simple changes in your environment or surgery.
Depending on your situation, you may find the following helpful: bright (but not glaring or reflecting) light; full spectrum/daylight bulbs; compact fluorescent bulbs; dimmer switches; three-way bulbs; lighting specific to task; and motion-detecting lights that automatically turn on when they sense your presence. Other things you can do include: rearranging furniture and keeping pathways clear; using contrasting solid colors on floors and stairs; color-coding and using tactile markers for phone and other frequently used appliances and items. You may also use color tape or tactile warning strips to show the edges of steps and to signal changes in floor level. You can mark light switches and other appliances using large print or Braille labeling tape.
PROBLEM: Hearing Problems
RECOMMENDATION: If you notice changes in your ability to hear, contact your physician. Your physician will test your hearing or order a hearing test done by an audiologist. Depending on your situation, hearing problems may be overcome by a variety of adaptive devices. These adaptive aids include amplified handsets for the phone and special indicators that will let you know when the doorbell or telephone rings, the smoke alarm goes off or the security alarm sounds. In addition, there are text telephones (some know them by TT, TTY, or TDD). With a keyboard and a visual display, a person can communicate with someone over the phone or someone else with a text phone. Most cell phones also now have text messaging capabilities.
RECOMMENDATION: Weakness may be due to a reversible cause. Contact your physician. Your physician may do a review of your medical condition and your medications, order a neurological examination or order a physical therapy evaluation. Depending on your situation, you may receive medical or surgical treatment to reverse a specific medical condition, you may be given some exercises to perform or you may be recommended for an assistive device.
PROBLEM: Confusion or Delirium
RECOMMENDATION: Confusion or delirium may be due to a reversible problem. Contact your physician. Your physician may order a functional evaluation as well as a dementia/delirium evaluation to determine severity and identify potential toxic or metabolic problems.
RECOMMENDATION: Depression is serious and, if left untreated, can negatively affect all areas of your life and may lead to illness, accidents, and suicide. Notify your physician or mental health therapist. Depression can be treated with different types of mental health therapy and/or antidepressant medication. Physical exercise also helps. With or without antidepressant medication, your understanding and working on the underlying cause of your depression, with the help of a mental health therapist, can help turn around this potentially serious condition. If you are not sure whether you are depressed, you may wish to take a Depression assessment. CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW.
Most of the health problems identified above are reversible or can be corrected with adaptive devices. It is encouraged you to work with your medical provider to maintain your health in order to lessen the likelihood of accidents or falls. In turn, you will be increasing your chances of maintaining your independent lifestyle.
As we age, the risk of an accident – be it a fall or other accidents – rises substantially resulting in fractures or other injuries that can cause temporary disability, permanent impairment or death. When accidents happen to older adults, the injuries tend to be more severe and heal more slowly sometimes resulting in the need for long-term care.
Many accidents and falls in older adults are preventable by maintaining good physical health, modifying the home environment and reducing potential hazards in the home. If you are interested in assessing the safety of your home and obtaining concrete recommendations to improve your home's safety, you may wish to take a Home Safety Assessment. CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW.