Falls are a primary cause of injury and accidental death in the elderly: 30-40% of older people living in the community fall each year and 50% of nursing home residents fall within their first year of placement. Furthermore, elderly people who fall have up to a ten times greater incidence of placement in a long term care facility when compared to those who do not fall. Falls are now recognized as an identified "Geriatric Syndrome" with definable risk factors and interventions that can both predict and prevent falling in the elderly.
Maine Medical Center's Geriatric Center offers a specialty clinic designed specifically to address this pervasive and common issue. The goal of our Falls Clinic is to prevent as many falls as possible through the management of identifiable and modifiable risk factors. Staffed by a Geriatrician and a Physical Therapist, this clinic is appropriate for patients with a history of frequent falls or who have been identified as a significant fall risk. Visits to the clinic include:
• A detailed evaluation of the patient's balance, strength, endurance and coordination
• An assessment of other risk factors associated with falling, such as:
- Medication side effects and interactions
- Effects of other underlying disease
- Decreased cognition
- Environmental risks
• Development of a comprehensive treatment plan with follow-up visits to the clinic as needed
Studies have shown that there are effective strategies available that significantly reduce falls and the risk of falling. Balance training, medication adjustment by physicians and home safety evaluations alone have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of falling in the geriatric population. The Falls Clinic will help you and your patient identify those strategies that will lessen their risk of falling.
The Falls Clinic is held Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at the Geriatric Center, located at 66 Bramhall Street in Portland. For an appointment, or for more information, please call 662-2847.
Prevention Information for Patients and Families
Falls are a common health problem among older adults. While most falls don't result in serious injury, they can affect a person's self-confidence and can lead to future falls.
Falls don't "just happen". People don't fall just because they get older. People fall for many reasons and usually there is more than one risk factor involved in a fall. The good news is that by reducing your risk factors, you can decrease your chance of falling.
Here are some risk factors for falling:
• Muscle weakness, especially in your legs
• Problems with your balance and gait (how you walk)
• Decreased vision
• Certain medications with side effects that can lead to falls or taking four (4) or more medicines on a regular basis
• Blood pressure that drops too much when you get up from lying or sitting down
• Foot problems or wearing unsafe footwear
• Safety hazards in your home
Things you can do to help prevent falls:
Become more physically active. Exercise is one of the most important ways to lower your chance of falling.
Have your healthcare provider review your medications. Include all your prescribed medicines and over-the-counter products. Find out about the possible side effects, and ask if changes in your medications could lower your risk of falls.
Have your vision checked. Poor vision can increase your chance of falling. Conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma can affect your perception or make it difficult to see obstacles in your path.
Take care of your feet. If your feet hurt, you will be less active, which could increase your risk of a fall. Wear shoes that have a low, sturdy heel, fit well, have non-slip textured soles, and support your feet.
Have your blood pressure checked. Some older people have normal or increased blood pressure while seated, but their blood pressure drops too much when they stand up. Some people feel dizzy and others don't. There is no way to know unless you check. A drop in blood pressure can increase your risk of falling.
Limit alcohol. Alcohol can affect your balance and reflexes, resulting in a fall.
Make Your Home Safe. Falls can happen anywhere, but more than half of all falls happen at home. Many of these falls could be prevented by making simple changes in the home.
• Make sure there is good lighting in all rooms.
• Have handrails on both sides of all stairs from top to bottom.
• Keep areas where you walk tidy.
• Check that all carpets are fixed firmly to the floor so they won't slip.
• Keep electric cords and telephone wires near walls and away from walking paths.
• Arrange your furniture and other objects so they are not in your way when you walk.
• Install grab bars in your tub or shower and near the toilet. Towel bars are not strong enough to prevent a fall.
• Keep a telephone within reach of your bed.
• Have light switches close to your bed or keep a flashlight handy.
• Use a night light to provide a lighted path from bedroom to bathroom.
• Store frequently used items at convenient heights (waist level) so that climbing, stooping, and lifting are not necessary.
• Wipe up spills from floors immediately, to prevent slipping.
If you have a dog or a cat, always be aware of your pet's location prior to walking. They are wonderful companions but can cause a fall if they dart behind you or jump on you.
What to do if you have a fall:
Whether you're at home or somewhere else, a sudden fall can be startling and upsetting. If you do fall, stay as calm as possible. Take several deep breaths and try to relax.
Remain still on the floor or ground for a few moments. This will give you time to decide if you're able to get up. If you are injured, call 911. Even if there appears to be little or no injury, discuss any fall with your doctor. By telling your doctor that you have fallen or are afraid of falling, you can help prevent future falls and injuries from falls.