RISK FACTORS FOR FALLING IN OLDER ADULTS
There are a multitude of factors responsible for increasing the risk of falling in older adults. According to the World Health Organization’s report on Falls Prevention in Older Age (2008), these risk factors are biological, environmental, behavioural, and socioeconomic. Firstly, women over 80 years of age are generally at highest risk. Also, a decline in an individual’s ability to look after themselves, walk well, changes in vision, and the development of diseases or conditions such as Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, cognitive impairment, and stroke all raise the risk of falling. These risk factors are termed biological risks.
Environmental risk factors of falling encompass the environment in which an older adult lives and moves around. Buildings with poor lighting, uneven walkways or loose rugs, slippery floors, as well loose, slippery or uneven staircases can be very dangerous for older adults.
Socioeconomic risk factors include low income and educational levels, inadequate housing, and lack of social support. These factors can limit an individual’s access to assistive devices and home modification, and whether or not they have access to care and resources such as social services or support networks.
Multiple medication use and excessive alcohol intake are also major risk factors for falls. Older adults who take more than four prescription medications are much more likely to fall, and some types of medications with side effects such as fatigue, weakness, and dizziness all increase risk. The medications most likely to increase fall risk are benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, neuroleptics, psychotropic drugs, and sedatives.
Behavioural risk factors are the factors that can be benefitted by external guidance and support, such as from a fall prevention specialist or personal trainer. These factors include a variety of lifestyle issues which can be modified. Lack of exercise and movement in general, low strength, balance, and agility levels, poor lower body muscle power, and improper footwear are all major risk factors for falls, but also the most important changes that can be made to decrease these risks.
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