Falls don’t just happen to the elderly, but that population is more likely to experience a life-altering injury as the result of a tumble.
The risk of a fall is different for each person—it may be physical or it can be environmental. Falls Prevention Day is Sept. 21, a designated time to bring about awareness and encourage people to make helpful changes for and with loved ones and possibly save lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one out of three older people—those 65 and older—fall each year, but less than half tell their doctor.
The statistics on falls are worrisome:
- The CDC found that 2.5 million older people are treated in the emergency room for fall injuries each year.
- Fall injuries are among the 20 most expensive medical conditions, with 2013 statistics showing a cost of $34 billion in that year.
- Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
- Many falls are preventable though—and do not have to be a natural part of aging. There are steps that can be taken to reduce the chance of a fall for an older adult.
Is It You?
There can be many physical reasons that a person becomes susceptible to falling as they age.
- Eyesight. As vision changes, so does the ability to safely move about. It is generally recommended that everyone see their eye doctor annually. However, make an appointment sooner if you think you need different types of lenses for indoor and outdoor activities.
- Illness. Many illnesses can increase the likelihood of a fall. Talk with your doctor, or the health care provider for your loved one, about this possibility after a diagnosis.
- Medication. Dizziness can be a side effect from some medication—both prescription and over-the-counter.
- Exercise. When someone does not continually work on their fitness, it can effect their falls risk. Routine working out can help with balance and the ability to recover from a fall. This can be relatively simple and fun, and possibly include some socializing too. Water aerobics are a safe way to improve balance without fear of falling during the exercise and Tai Chi is also recommended. The goal is to improve strength and balance over time.
- Sleep tight. A lack of sleep—whether from illness, medication, a change in lifestyle—can increase the risk of falling down. A good night’s sleep can also improve a person’s focus and agility during the day.
Here, There and Everywhere
The other cause of falls can be the environment—from an icy sidewalk in winter to an electrical cord between the chair and the TV.
Consider these quick fixes to eliminate tripping hazards:
- De-clutter. Sometimes a new pair of eyes on what is familiar to you can recognize potential dangers in the home. Ask a friend or loved one to help you out with clearing away piles of old newspaper or rearranging the furniture.
- Lighten up. Additional lighting in the home—whether it is higher watt bulbs or more lights—can improve visibility in the home. A nightlight in the bathroom is always a good idea for those who might need to get up in the middle of the night. Maybe make a flashlight handy in the bedroom for walking from there to another part of the house.
- Grab on. The bathroom is a slick place so grab bars for getting up from the toilet and in the shower can be real lifesavers. There should be handrails on all stairways, both indoor and outdoor.
- Tape down. Throw rugs can get loose or scrunch up become hazards in the home. These should be removed or affixed to the floor to prevent them from buckling underfoot.
- Expert evaluation. A reputable home care agency in your area will offer a complimentary falls risk assessment of the home. This safety evaluation from a third party can be a bridge to communicating with your loved one about your concerns.
Check some of the many resources available to help reduce the number of falls each year. The National Council on Aging offers information on their website.