According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2.8 million seniors (65 years-old or older) are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries in the United States. More than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
Falls can happen anytime and anywhere to people of any age. However, as people get older, the number of falls and the severity of injury resulting from falls increases. There is a pattern to falls among the elderly: The fear of falling, then the injury, followed by hospitalization, decreased independence and mobility, and often relocation to a nursing or residential institution.
Are you or a loved one at risk of injury from falling?
The CDC sites the biggest risk factor as lower body weakness, followed by vitamin D deficiency, lack of balance, and side effects from other medications. As people age, the side effects of medication can change. Some medications, or their interactions with other medications, can make you sleepy or dizzy and can cause you to fall.
Learn how to minimize your risk
The first step in fall prevention is to talk to your doctor to assess your risks of falling and how to minimize those risks. One is to review your medications to determine if any of them may make you susceptible to falling, as well as to assess your vitamin D levels. Fall prevention options include strength and balance exercises, and removing any tripping hazards in the home. Other ways to prevent falls in the home are to make sure the home is well lit, to install handrails in the shower and tub, and to make sure there are strong handrails on any stairs.
Using stable footwear can also prevent falls. Sandals can be hazards, as the front of the sole can catch on uneven surfaces. Shoes with high heels and smooth soles should also be avoided.
It’s also important to have your eyes and ears checked regularly. Poor eyesight can lead to falls, and inner ear issues can affect your balance. A poor diet and not getting enough water will deplete strength and energy, and can make it hard to move and do everyday activities.
Muscles and bones weaken with age
Exercises that improve balance and make your legs stronger lower your chances of falling. It also helps you feel better and more confident. An example of this kind of exercise is Tai Chi. Physical therapy can also help. There are now special programs available in many physical therapy practices designed to help seniors improve their strength and balance.
Also, don’t be afraid to use a cane or walking stick to support your balance. Canes are available in a variety of styles, and some fold away to be stored in a handbag or briefcase when seated.
Falls can have a significant impact on seniors’ quality of life. Hospital stays for seniors that fall are twice as long as hospital stays for any other reason. Injuries from falls can result in temporary or permanent limited mobility and the independence that comes with mobility.
Some people mistakenly believe that the best way to prevent falls is to stay at home and limit your activity. Not true, says the National Council on Aging. Performing physical activities will actually help you stay independent, as your strength and range of motion benefit from remaining active. Social activities are also good for your overall health. Also, half of all falls take place in the home, adding to the importance removing clutter, throw rugs and cords that can cause falls.