Even though falls among older adults remain a growing concern, a recent study reported that only half of elders discuss falling with their doctor. Study subjects included individuals age 65 and older with multiple falls and injuries (in the study, a fall was defined as that which interfered with regular activities for at least one day, or caused the individual to see a physician). Of equal concern, many doctors don’t ask elders about falling events during health visits. Up to 90 percent of elders report seeing a doctor in the past year for a variety of complaints, but a fall is rarely the reason for the visit.
When it comes to falling, not telling the doctor is never good! Why? Because persons are more likely to:
- Not engage in any preventive activities (such as exercise, review of medications, use of a cane, home safety modifications, etc.) that might help avoid future falls.
- Develop a fear of falling or injury (due to a lack of confidence in moving about), which can interfere with one’s social activities.
- Continue to fall and experience undesirable consequences.
So why do elders hesitate telling their doctors about falling? One of the main reasons is that elders generally desire to live at home rather than in assisted living facilities or nursing homes; they fear that reporting falls may result in their doctor (or family member) insisting on relocation to a long-term care facility. Other reasons for not reporting falls include thinking that falls are a normal part of the aging process and a desire to not appear frail or needy or bother family members or caregivers.
After a Fall
The risk of suffering fall-related complications can be greatly lessened by reporting and discussing a falling episode with the doctor. As such, falling should never be dismissed as a part of aging. In many instances, a fall (and sometimes even a simple slip or trip) can be a warning, sign or symptom of underlying health problems that may be cured or controlled.
The doctor can assess whether a medical issue or another cause of the fall needs to be addressed. Knowing the cause can help a person plan to prevent future falls. This is the best way of avoiding additional falls and the disastrous consequences associated with falls.
Lastly, the doctor may also refer the elder to other health care providers who can help prevent future falls. A physical therapist can help with gait, balance, strength training and walking aids. An occupational therapist can suggest changes in the home that may lower the risk of falls.
Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (healthcare professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dr-rein/6/759/592. If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein at firstname.lastname@example.org.