Fall prevention for older adults is rarely a one-solution problem because no single factor causes falls. Falls can be caused by several factors that often intersect with each other. Let's break down what can cause a fall and how teams can reduce the impact of those factors.
External causes are often the easiest to recognize and the most straightforward to solve. These can include trip hazards like uneven floors, loose rugs, or unstable furniture. Clothing and footwear that doesn’t fit properly or allow for a safe range of motion, such as slippers with worn-out traction on the soles, can also contribute to falls. Low light or lack of contrast in stairwells and hallways can also cause residents to misjudge their steps.
Many senior living communities take fall prevention into account in their interior design to reduce environmental falls. Many communities have low pile carpeting or laminate flooring, sturdy furniture placed spaciously, and lots of natural and artificial lighting.
Overall health also contributes to fall risk, including common signs of aging. Most older adults will need to adjust to hearing or vision loss as they age and both conditions can make it more challenging to navigate the world safely. Similarly, chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and Parkinson’s can all impact an individual’s mobility. Sometimes these conditions can be improved, either with medication or mobility aids, and catching changes in mobility early can help postpone the most serious risk.
Other medical conditions can affect stability due to the medications a resident might be prescribed. Many medications include side effects like dizziness, nausea, fatigue, or drowsiness which, while minor on their own, can make moving steadily a challenge. Many medications may suppress the central nervous system, or medications together may have interactions that can heighten the chance of a fall. Assisted living staff often need to keep an eye out for residents who show more unsteadiness after health changes.
One of the most subtle causes of falls is a resident’s psychological state toward their own mobility. Residents can be especially fragile after an initial fall, injury, or new diagnosis. Often in the aftermath, an individual may face anxiety about their new weakness. This distress can result in residents withdrawing, doing fewer and fewer physical activities, and refusing to take even small risks.
Without regular use and strengthening, muscles and joints stiffen and become less and less functional, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Feeling even more unsteady on the rare occasion they're active, the resident becomes more and more concerned about falling—reducing their mobility further.
However, this is the cause that may be the most actionable for senior living communities. Personalized exercise, guided calisthenics, community engagement, and progress tracking all help encourage residents to own their physical wellness. And just like the negative cycle feeds itself, positive results can spark confidence, physical security, and a sense of accomplishment.
For many falls, prevention must start before the fall occurs, before a resident is recovering from weakness, and before a chronic illness takes hold. Tools like VSTBalance and VSTAlert allow fall prevention to start before crisis strikes and provide hard data that strengthens a whole community.
Read more about how an AI ecosystem can help prevent falls in your community.