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Fall Risk Assessment: What is a Fall Risk Assessment and Do I Need One?

Falls can happen more frequently and be more dangerous as you age, but a fall risk assessment can help. If you are over the age of 65, you behave around a 30% likelihood of having a fall, with a 1 in 10 chance of serious injury. Furthermore, the risk factors increase with age because seniors are more likely to experience balance disorders, impaired vision, and other obstacles to mobility. 

Learn how a fall risk assessment can help you stay safe and independent after returning to your home after receiving medical care. Find out how it assesses your risk level and recommends measures to reduce your risk of falling. And, see how you can take the next step to care for your well-being and assess your fall risk. 

What is a Fall Risk Assessment and Should You Get One?

A fall risk assessment occurs during a fall risk evaluation and serves to help better understand your risk of falling, how dangerous a fall could be for you, and how to mitigate your risk factors. Although you might not feel it – your body is not as resilient to injuries, as it once was. As you age, falling can result in injuries that range from minor bruising to internal bleeding, or, in some cases, a terminal injury. 

As a senior, you have between a 30% to 40% likelihood of experiencing a fall, unless you take measures to reduce the risk factors present in your environment and living community. And a fall risk evaluation helps, both, you and your physician’s come up with strategies to more effectively prevent falls from occurring. 

Seniors over the age of 65 are at the highest risk for falling and suffering serious injuries, however, you do not have to be a senior to get a fall risk assessment. Regardless of age – if you experience chronic balance problems or issues walking as a result of a medical condition or treatment, a fall risk intervention can help. 

What Happens During a Fall Risk Evaluation?

A fall risk evaluation consists of a questionnaire screening, followed by a physical assessment, and concludes with interventions. The screening questions serve to provide background information on your medical background and history of balance issues or falls. The physical assessment uses several methods or tools to test your walking gait, balance, and strength, and the final intervention offers recommendations to mitigate your risk of falling.

The CDC fall risk evaluation model, called STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries) is used by most health care providers. The screening includes questions regarding falls you’ve taken in the past year, whether you feel unsteady when walking, and whether or not falling is a worry to you. This step is important to provide context for the next step: the fall risk assessment. 

In a fall risk assessment, your provider tests your walking gait, balance, and strength to determine your physical acuity and risk of falling. The first is a Timed Up-and-Go (TUG) test, in which your provider sees how long it takes you to stand from seated and walk a predetermined distance (about 10 feet). If it takes more than 12 seconds for you to complete the task, it tells your provider that you could be at an increased risk of falling.

To assess your strength, your provider has you complete a 30-second Chair Stand Test. In this test, you start seated with your hands folded over your chest, stand-up, sit-down – and repeat for 30-seconds. Your provider counts how many times you stand and sit, then compares your results to the risk-average for your age.  

Finally, a balance test assesses your physical acuity holding four positions, one at a time for 10-seconds each. The first position is to stand with your feet side-by-side, followed by moving one foot forward, to meet the instep with your other big toe. The third position is moving the same foot forward to meet your heel with the big toe on your stationary foot, followed, finally by standing on one foot.  

Your provider assesses your fall risk by looking at positions 2, 3, and 4. In positions 2 and 3, the inability to hold the position for 10-seconds indicates the possibility of a balance problem. And, the same is true if you stand on one foot for less than 5-seconds. There are other assessment tools your provider might use, but these three steps are the standard for most fall risk evaluations. 

What Fall Risk Interventions Might My Provider Recommend?

If your assessment results indicate inconsistencies in your gait, strength, or balance, interventions are recommended to address those areas that present a risk. One of the most common intervention recommendations to reduce the risk of falling for seniors is to exercise. Your provider may give you directions on specific exercises to do on your own or might refer you to a physical therapist.

In some cases, the side effects of your medication may be a contributing factor to dizziness or balance issues. Your provider can work with you and your prescribing physician to reduce these effects by altering your medication or recommending additional therapies. Many seniors receive recommendations to take vitamin D supplements to strengthen their bones, thereby increasing physical resistance to falls and possible injuries as a result, thereof.

Your provider might also recommend getting a checkup from an optometrist and a podiatrist. Finally, your provider might offer recommendations for removing potential fall hazards around your home and living environment, like loose rugs and dimly lit stairways.

If you live in a home with substantial hazards, an occupational therapist can help you determine how best to reduce the hazards present. If you worry about the repercussions of suffering a fall in your home, get a fall risk evaluation today. And, talk to a CCMCF fall risk assessment associate today to take the next steps on ensuring your safety and independence after an extended medical stay.