Expert spotlight: Identify modifiable risk factors to prevent patient falls

Nurse Leader Insider, February 16, 2009

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This week, Carole Eldridge, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, dean, campus director, and associate professor at St. John's College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Southwest Baptist University in Springfield, MO, discusses the lifestyle risk factors that increase patients' chance of falling.

Q: My nurses take many precautions to prevent patient falls, such as assisting patients during trips to the bathroom and ensuring canes and walkers are available. What are some lifestyle risk factors my nurses should be aware of to reduce falls?

A: Modifiable risk factors include those related to a patient's lifestyle choices. Although we can reduce the potential for falling and for fall-related injuries by changing these lifestyle characteristics, patients need support and encouragement to help them change lifelong, ingrained habits. Lifestyle risk factors include the following:

  • Inadequate nutrition, which increases the risk of falling and the chance of serious injury from falls; this can include low calcium and vitamin D intake, which leads to low bone mass, or insufficient protein and calorie intake, which leads to low muscle mass and weakness
  • Excessive alcohol intake, whether acute or chronic, which contributes to a variety of short- and long-term problems with balance, nutrition, weakness, and movement control
  • Low bone mass, which can make an injury more likely when a fall occurs
  • Inactivity, which causes deterioration in muscle strength, bone mass, and joint flexibility
  • Loss of strength and flexibility, which lead to loss of confidence and fear of falling
  • Smoking, which leads to poor cellular oxygenation and low bone mass

Editor's note: Do you have a question for our experts? Email your queries to Editor Keri Mucci at and see your name in print next week! In the meantime, head over to our Web site and view a growing collection of advice from our experts.

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