Fall prevention tips to share with your patients

Larry Lunghamer knows how much of a difference fall prevention can make. The retired 73-year-old, who enjoys travelling and house repairs, became more prone to falling after his stroke in 2010. Since then, he has fallen 22 times. One fall left him with three cracked ribs.

“I was going up and down the river by my house with my walking poles,” says Lunghamer, recounting another incident in July 2016. “Within about 100 yards, I fell three times. That started to concern me.”

Lunghamer’s doctor recommended he take action, so he started attending Vancouver Coastal Health’s Falls Prevention Clinic. He participated in a research study, and now attends an exercise class two days a week. It has been seven months since his last fall.

Falls and seniors in BC

Falls are the leading cause of injury‐related deaths and hospitalizations for British Columbians over 65. On average each year, over 13,000 are hospitalized due to falls (36 per day) and over 500 die. The risk of falling increases with age, and women experience hip fractures and other fall-related fractures at almost twice the rate of men. These falls cost our health care system almost $500 million a year.

“When an older person falls, it can have an enduring and severe impact—resulting in injury, loss of mobility, a reduced quality of life and, in severe cases, death,” says Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, the director of research and operations at the Falls Prevention Clinic at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

“Falls are preventable. There are a lot of things you can do to help patients who are older adults to stay on their feet—encourage them to stay active and strong with strength and balance exercises, get their eyes tested regularly, make their home safer, and educate them on how their medications can affect them.”

Fall prevention tips that you can share

  • Keep your body active with strength and balance exercises.

  • Have a doctor or pharmacist review your medications.

  • Have your eyes checked once a year by an optometrist.

  • Install safety equipment in your home:

    • Clear clutter from walkways and stairs

    • Install handrails on both sides of stairs

    • Keep walkways, steps and handrails in good repair

    • Install grab bars in your bathroom

    • Remove carpets or rugs that present a tripping hazard

    • Use only non-slip rugs on the kitchen and bathroom floor, and non-skid mats, decals or abrasive strips in the bathtub and shower

    • Install night lights in the bedroom, bathroom and hallways

“A simple change, whether it’s encouraging patients who are older adults to have annual eye tests, or to ask their doctor or pharmacist how their medications can affect their falls and injury risk, can really improve their quality of life,” says Megan Oakey, provincial manager of injury and falls prevention for the Provincial Health Services Authority and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“We are working with the health authorities to enhance our existing programs and make life better for older British Columbians.”

For more information

From November 6-12, it’s Seniors Fall Prevention Awareness Week. The BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit and the BC Falls and Injury Prevention Coalition are sharing tips that will help keep seniors safe.