Preventing Falls in the Elderly: Updated Guidelines

Falls are one of the most common health problems experienced by older adults and are a common cause of loss of functional independence. Studies show that unintended injuries are the fifth leading cause of death in the elderly, and falls cause about two-thirds of those injuries. Fortunately, research continues to evolve in fall prevention. In the January 13, 2011 online issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) and the British Geriatric Society (BGS) updated the 2001 guideline on preventing falls in older persons based on an accumulation of new data and a literature review. Assessing Fall Risk Factors The first step in preventing falls is to determine if patients are at increased risk. The updated AGS/BGS guidelines recommend that yearly evaluations of elderly patients include questions about any recent falls as well as inquiries about balance and steadiness of gait. Balance and steadiness represent a new addition to the guidelines. These problems can result from a number of causes, so it’s important that physicians consider what may be contributing to the problem before recommending treatment. Patients should also be asked about side effects of any medications that may increase fall risk. Questions about a patient’s comfort with activities of daily living may also reveal areas of concern. If a patient has already sustained a fall, physicians should assess and treat any resulting injuries, evaluate what contributed to the fall, and then recommend interventions to prevent future falls. Take Preventive Measures to Reduce Falls In many cases, preventive measures can be taken to reduce the likelihood of falls. The appropriate course of action...