In our previous blog post, we discussed the relationship between hearing loss and risk of falls. We also highlighted the only hearing aids with built-in fall detection — the Starkey Livio Edge AI 2400’s. Today, we are sharing our complete interview with Des Moines occupational therapist, Dr. Sydney Moore, on mitigating and managing falls in older adults.
Interview with Dr. Sydney Moore of Happy at Home Consulting
Hi Dr. Moore, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about mitigating and managing fall risks. We know that research has shown that even a mild hearing loss triples the risk of an accidental fall in older adults (Lin et al. 2013). With hearing loss we can have challenges with environmental and spatial awareness as well as taxing our cognitive resources and stressing other body systems responsible for gait and balance. Before anyone has a fall, what kinds of issues do you see people experience when they start to define that “fall risk” category?
Older adults may be at an increased risk of falls for a multitude of reasons. I tend to separate fall risk into two main categories, factors that we can control and factors out of our control. Factors that we have more limited control over may include: the aging process, chronic conditions and diagnoses and accidents. I think most older adults may agree aging is hard.
One of the natural processes of aging includes the loss of muscle mass. Decreased muscle mass and strength may significantly change our ability to balance. Regular physical activity can help maintain and improve muscle mass; however, many chronic conditions may make exercise painful or difficult. Chronic conditions may result in aches, physical and cognitive changes which make it more difficult to complete our activities of daily living, or ADL’s. The more difficult daily activities become, the greater risk for falling. Many people wait to ask for help until things become very difficult, but it is important to seek help when even slight changes are noticed.
Most chronic issues advance gradually. Is there a time during a patient’s course of illness that you start to talk about falls being an issue?
While chronic disease is not something we choose, we do choose how to manage it. I become increasingly concerned about an individual’s fall risk when chronic conditions are not well managed, as it could result in greater fall risk factors including vision changes, weakness and declined mobility. Any minimal change in function or condition should be promptly relayed to a medical professional. Regular follow up appointments with primary care physicians and specialty providers – including your audiologist – is crucial to decreasing fall risk!
I like how you use the term manage. It is so important how we act upon present issues. We ultimately are the managers of our own body and mind and we want to make the best decisions for ourselves.
The pieces we can control when it comes to falls include prevention and management. Falls can often be prevented with small changes at home. In my practice, we focus on small, cost effective changes which can help prevent falls at home. Removal of throw rugs, improved lighting and adding grab bars are simple modifications which prevent a fall. Additional modifications are often necessary for individuals’ unique needs and chronic conditions.
It looks like little things can have a big impact!
While we can often mitigate the frequency of falls, there are times when falls happen. Falls are truly accidents, and as humans we make mistakes! While we talk A LOT about fall prevention, what we do immediately after a fall is equally important! Immediately after a fall, the first step is to alert medical personnel and emergency contacts to quickly identify and treat any potential injuries. For this reason, I was thrilled to hear that some hearing aids may offer fall detection. This technology will truly be amazing for individuals who live at home alone and are at risk for falls.