Dementia and Falls in Older Adults: Know the Risks and Reduction Tactics

Older man and woman embracing in garden

Cognitive impairment such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in older adults increases fall risk. Compared to adults who are cognitively healthy, those living with cognitive impairment should be aware of fall risks and equip themselves with an arsenal of fall intervention tactics. If you are living with cognitive impairment, no matter the severity, this guide will outline some of the most common risks associated with falls, provide solutions and present tips for adequate and ongoing dementia care for people living with Alzheimer’s Disease and their companions.

Fall Risks and Cognitive Impairment

There are many risk factors to be aware of if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with, or is showing symptoms of, cognitive impairment. Dementia is a generalized term for those experiencing a decline in memory, reasoning and other thinking skills. Alzheimer’s, a specific disease, is a type of dementia. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed by a healthcare professional with a specific or general impairment, you can still be on the lookout for environmental, physical and psychosocial factors that can increase your (or a loved one’s) risk of falling.

Common Risk Factors

  • Decline in Mobility/Balance
  • An Increase in “Walking” FKA “Wandering”
  • Muscle Weakness/Atrophy
  • Pain
  • Vision Impairment
  • New Medications
  • Neuropathy
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Communication Difficulties
  • In-home clutter or hoarding
  • Unsecured rugs and slippery, wet surfaces
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Increased Severity of Dementia

While some of the risk factors listed above apply to people without dementia or Alzheimer’s, these risk factors are commonly associated with those living with cognitive impairment. You do not need to exhibit all of the risk factors above to be at risk for a serious injury-inducing fall, which is why it’s important to take note of any factors you or a loved one may be experiencing.

Our team at Prestige is trained to recognize the risk factors shown by seniors that could lead to a fall, and we take every precaution to make sure they stay as safe as possible.

Reduce Fall-Related Injuries

Increase Mobility + Decrease Muscle Atrophy

A decline in mobility or balance and increased muscle weakness seem to go hand-in-hand. While it’s important to remain physically active, it becomes increasingly difficult for those living with cognitive impairment. If you’re a caregiver, the activities that promote exercise do not need to be complicated or structured. In fact there are plenty of tasks that can keep your loved one up and moving such as light gardening, seated exercises, polishing furniture, swimming, tai chi, stretching in bed before waking for the day, folding laundry or washing the car.

At Prestige Care, we run our award-winning Expressions program for our Memory Care residents. Expressions is designed to keep memory care residents active and engaged. As part of that, our Healthy Expressions activities focus on regular physical exercise, which has been shown to help slow the onset of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The physical activity also helps reduce falls to better keep our residents safe.

Curb the “Walking” Habit

An increase in wandering/walking for those living with dementia is very common. Whether it’s around the house, through the neighborhood or at odd hours, walking can pose a scary and dangerous fall risk. New environments, confusion, physical discomfort and habits are all reasons why someone may go for a walk. Truth be told much evidence suggests that these walkabouts are often purposeful.

Allowing your loved one to walk in a safe or supervised area is a great solution. The other option is to communicate with your loved one, often, you’ll discover what their goal is or what it is that they’re after and this can result in a reduction in walking. Wandering/Walking in certain stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s is very common and often a phase that passes so be patient and maintain communication when and wherever possible with your loved one. 

Identify Sight Loss + Schedule an Optometry Appointment

Dementia accompanied by sight loss is prevalent among seniors. The first thing to do as a caregiver is assess the situation and look out for vision impairment signs and symptoms. Is your loved one having difficulty with reading, avoiding obstacles or finding food on their plate? If so, it might be time to head to the optometrist.

Routine eye examinations are a simple and effective way to reduce fall risks for those living with cognitive impairment. As we age there is a higher prevalence of cataracts, glaucoma, floaters in the eyes, and the eye’s ability to pick up on changes in color and depth, which can increase fall risk.

Evaluate Current Medications

Certain medications that are used to treat dementia, and many used for a myriad of other purposes, can put you or a loved one at risk of falling. Medications like antidepressants, benzodiazepine and many antipsychotics are known to cause dizziness, drowsiness and postural hypotension, which is a fancy way of saying a drop in blood pressure, when rising from a seated position.

If you believe that your medication, or a loved one’s medication, is creating an increased fall risk it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider.

The same can be said if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of depression. Depression and depression medication can increase fall risks in older adults. Stress, distress, restlessness, pain, boredom and loneliness which can all be associated with varying levels of depression should be talked about regularly with your healthcare provider. These are symptoms not to be ignored.

Whether you live alone, in an assisted living community or are caring for an older adult, identifying fall risks is critical to preventing them. Continue to keep all the common risk factors listed above in mind and stay safe.

If it’s time to consider memory care for a loved one, Prestige Senior Living’s award-winning Expressions program can help your loved one lead a full life. It’s designed specifically with memory care residents in mind and provides daily opportunities for residents to live a productive and active life, all while helping them feel accepted, important, comfortable and at home. Visit us online to learn more, or to find the community nearest you.