Falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury and death in the United States and the leading cause of injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls among adults 65 and older caused over 36,000 deaths in 2020, making it the leading cause of injury death for that group.
One of every three people, 65 years and older, falls each year leading to hospitalization for fall-related injuries five times more that there are for injuries from other causes. Of those who fall, 20-30 percent suffer moderate to severe injuries that reduce mobility and independence, increasing the risk of premature death, cites cdc.gov.
Of all fall-related fractures, hip fractures are the most serious and lead to the greatest number of health problems and death. Hip fractures occur in more than 300,000 Americans each year and nearly 90 percent of these cases occur in people who are over age 65. A recent study found that the cost of a hip fracture was between $36,000 to over $47,000 during the first year following the injury. That cost includes direct medical care, formal non-medical care, and informal care provided by family and friends. In 2015, the total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
Falls continue to be a threat to the health of older adults and can still reduce their ability to remain independent. The chances of falling or helping a loved one prevent falls can be reduced so they are not seen inevitable as you age. Though, there may be proven ways to reduce and prevent falls, even for older adults, but if you do fall, do the following:
- Drop whatever you are carrying. Free your hands so that you can break your fall (it is better to risk fracturing a wrist than to break a shoulder or hip).
- Do not move or let others move you until you get medical assistance if you think something is broken.
- Arrange a signal, use a professional alert system, and try to make telephones accessible in most rooms of your house so that if you fall, you can get help quickly. Lying on the floor for long periods after a fall can be harmful.
- Try to sit on a chair rather than trying to stand if you think you are only bruised and not seriously injured. Avoid putting weight on the injured area.
- Apply ice for minor injuries.
- Analyze what happened and identify what you can to to avoid a similar fall next time.
Steps You Can Take To Prevent Falls
Falls and accidents seldom “just happen.” Since most falls happen in or around the home, it is important to identify the major hazards and find ways in which to make your home “fall safe!” Danger zones include the bathroom, kitchen, and stairs.
Around Your House
- A place for everything and everything in its place. Remove clutter from stairs and walkways.
- Throw it out!
Throw out throw rugs before you throw your back out or use double-sided tape to keep them from slipping.
- Hang on for dear life.
Have grab bars installed next to your toilet and in the tub or shower, Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
- Do not stare down the stairs.
Have lights and handrails put in all staircases.
- Do not be a dimwit!
Improve the lighting in your home. Place a night light between the bedroom and bathroom.
- Do not lose touch.
Install a telephone in as many rooms as possible to be accessible in case of an accident.
- Do not live in a freezer.
Keep your home temperature at 65 degrees or above. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures may cause body temperature to drop, leading to dizziness and falling. Many older persons cannot tolerate cold as well as younger people can.
Within Your Body
- Get a tune up.
Have your vision and hearing tested regularly and properly corrected. Even the simple task of removing ear wax can improve your balance.
- Move it or lose it.
Maintain a regular program of exercise. Regular physical activity improves strength and muscle tone. See your doctor or physical therapist to plan a suitable exercise program. Exercises that improve balance and coordination (like Tai Chi) are the most helpful.
- Last call for alcohol.
Limit your intake of alcohol. Even a little alcohol can further disturb already impaired balance and reflexes.
- Take it easy.
Use caution in getting up too quickly after eating, lying down, or resting. Low blood pressure may cause dizziness at these times.
- Give yourself a leg to stand.
Use a cane, walking stick, or walker to help maintain balance on uneven or unfamiliar ground or if you sometimes feel dizzy. Use special caution in walking outdoors on wet and icy pavement or in places that may have slick floors, such as bank lobbies, hospitals, and grocery stores.
- Put your best foot forward.
Wear supportive, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes, even around the house. Wearing only socks or slippers on stairs or waxed floors makes it very easy to slip and fall.
- Haste can hurt.
Slow down. Accidents are more likely to happen when you do things in haste.
In Your Medicine Cabinet
- Know the score.
Taking four or more medications daily (both prescription and over-the-counter) can increase your risk of falling. What a difference a pill makes! Remember that medications for certain conditions may affect your balance. They include blood pressure medicines, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and anti-seizure medicines.
Get an annual check-up for your medicine cabinet. Ask your doctor or pharmacist at least once a year to review the drugs you take (both prescription and over-the-counter) and how they may affect your coordination or balance.
Are You At Risk For Falling?
If you checked “Yes” on any of these items, you should discuss your specific problem or risk with your primary care physician or other healthcare provider. Remember, the more risk factors you have, the greater your risk for fall.
From The Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation, from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Injury Center and from The OASIS Institute Webmaster