Preventing Falls Preserves Health, Independence
Not surprisingly, adults age 65 and older often do not alert family members or friends the first time they fall. That first fall can bring fears of ceding control of home, vehicles and overall independence.
Being honest and taking proactive steps to prevent future falls can guard against those very concerns. Fall prevention can also go a long way in cutting down on medical costs estimated at $50 billion annually.
“Often people don’t disclose the first fall,” said Amy Leigh Overton-McCoy of the UAMS Centers on Aging. “They’re fearful of maybe having to give up their home, or having somebody live with them. A lot of times the first fall people never disclose, but doing so is an important step in preventing something bad from happening.”
Falling is the No. 1 cause of injury among older adults in the U.S. and Arkansas ranks No. 48 nationally (not good) in occurrence of falls.
An important step in guarding against falling seems, at first blush, counterintuitive. Staying active is critical.
“Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities,” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling.”
Activities can range from an early morning or afternoon walk to scheduled activities at a fitness or senior center. Overton-McCoy reccommends Tai Chi, a type of martial art taught through the UAMS Centers on Aging.
Tai Chi is beneficial because it requires no equipment, but can improve strength, balance and mobility. Water workouts are also a recommended full-body exercise.
Consulting with a doctor is always key before beginning an exercise routine.
Talk to Your Doctor(s)
Regular doctor visits can reduce falls.
Doctors can help determine if falls and other balance issues are a result of medication. Ailments related to the heart and sinuses can often affect balance and equilibrium.
Keeping vision prescriptions up to date is also important. Avoiding fall risks is more difficult if you can’t see them clearly.
Change Your Footwear
Flip flops or a well-worn pair of shoes might seem comfortable, but they’re bad news.
High heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble and fall. So can walking in your socks or stockings. Properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles are ideal and may also reduce joint pain.
Identify Household Risk
Your mother’s favorite rug isn’t just out of style. It’s also a safety hazard. Throw rugs are easy to trip over, especially as older adults go through changes to their nervous system and become more apt to drag their feet as they walk.
Adequate lighting helps eliminate safety concerns. A nightlight on the path to the bathroom can be helpful.
Uneven floors and showers/bathtubs without appropriate grab bars are also safety hazards. Extension cords, boxes and furniture in high-traffic areas can also pose a danger.
Keep all of these suggestions in mind when assessing risk around the house.
“Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors,” according to the CDC. “The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling.”
BY THE NUMBERS
- $50 billion - Annual expense for fall-related medical care
- 75% - Fall-related medical costs covered by Medicare/Medicaid
- 3 million - Number of older adults treated annually in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries
- 95% - Hip fractures caused by a fall for Americans 65-and-older
- 7 - Fall deaths per hour by 2030
- No. 1 - Fall is the top cause of traumatic brain injury
- 20% - Falls that result in serious injury or death