Sitting here thinking about the effects of falls on boomers and seniors, I can think of many stories that shouldn’t have happened. For example, two of my middle-aged acquaintances snagged a high-heel shoe on the carpeting while walking down stairs. One broke a hip and the other tore her knee up. Both have never been the same.
When only age 60, a girlfriend’s grandmother tripped on her long skirt on the basement stairs, feel backwards and died instantly of a massive head trauma. Another old friend fell off a step ladder when trying to change a light bulb. A combination of vertigo, neuropathy and A-fib conspired against him for a trip to the ER.
Tragic falls happen every day. They are tragic because many falls happen unnecessarily. With a little thought and planning many could be totally avoided. Falls become tragic, too, because the consequences of slipping on a loose throw rug or tripping on an electrical cord when hurrying to “catch” a phone call, often evolve into life-changing events.
Falls are a huge problem
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not mince words when it comes to the high cost of falls:
o One out of five falls causes serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury
o Each year, 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
o Over 700,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
o Each year at least 250,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
o More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.
o Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
o Adjusted for inflation, the direct medical costs for fall injuries are $34 BILLION annually. Hospital costs account for two-thirds of the total.
If that isn’t enough raw fact to make you pay attention, the Stop Falls organization adds a few more. For example, more than 40 percent of people hospitalized from hip fractures do not return home and are not capable of living independently again. In addition, 25 percent of those who have fallen pass away each year.
What makes you more likely to fall?
Research has identified many conditions that contribute to falling. These are called risk factors. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls. They include:
o Lower body weakness
o Vitamin D deficiency (not enough vitamin )
o Difficulties with walking and balance
o Use of medicines such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants and/or even over-the-counter medicines.
o Vision problems
o Foot pain or poor footwear
o Home hazards or dangers such as:
Broken or uneven steps
Throw rugs or clutter
Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling.
Myths about falling
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) suggests we all take a look at some of the myths about falling. Debunking these myths helps us take responsibility for our own safety.
Myth 1: Falling happens to other people, not me.
Reality: 1 in 3 older adults – about 12 million- fall every year in the U.S.
Myth 2: It is normal to fall when you get older.
Reality: Falling is not anormal part of aging. Strength and balance exercises, managing your medications, having your vision checked and making your living environment safer are all steps you can take to prevent a fall.
Myth 3: If I limit my activity, I won’t fall.
Reality: Not true. Staying physical and active will help you stay strong and independent.
Myth 4: If I stay at home, I can avoid falling.
Reality: over half of all falls take place at home. Fix hazards such as clutter, throw rugs, and poor lighting. Add grab bars in the bathroom, a second handrail on stairs and non-slip paint on outdoor steps.
Myth 5: Muscle strength and flexibility can’t be regained.
Reality: Yes, we do tend to lose muscle as we age, but exercise can partially restore strength and flexibility. You can start exercise and get stronger anytime.
How can we prevent falls?
- Risk assessment and follow-up
Talk to your doctor about your risk of falling. Some of the health factors that can contribute to falls are osteoporosis, being over age 80, changes in balance and walking patterns, changes in vision and sensation and taking multiple medications. Certain medications cause older adults to experience dizziness. Once you understand the factors, you can start to reduce your risk.
- Physical activity
Studies show that balance, flexibility and strength training not only improve mobility, but also reduce the risk of falling. There are many creative and low-impact forms of physical activity for fall prevention such as tai chi.
- Environmental modification
By making changes to the home and community environment a person can feel safer and less at risk of falling. For example, the bathroom can be modified by installing grab bars in the shower or tub, having a place to sit and having non-slip surfaces.