The risk of a fall is different for each person whether they live in downtown Chicago, The Gold Coast, DePaul or Lincoln Park—it can either be physical or environmental. It is important to bring awareness to fall prevention and encourage people to take steps and make changes to help keep their loved ones safe. 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, showing a cost of $34 billion in a year.
- Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
However, most falls are preventable! There are steps that can be taken to reduce the chance of a fall for an older adult, including recognizing the risks and symptoms that could cause falls.
There can be many physical reasons that a person becomes susceptible to falling as they age.
- Medication. Dizziness can be a side effect from some medication—both prescription and over-the-counter.
- 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.
- 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. The goal is to improve strength and balance over time.
- Eyesight. As vision changes, so does the ability to safely move about. It is generally recommended that everyone see their eye doctor annually.
- 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.
Other causes of falls can be environmental—from an icy sidewalk in winter to a loose throw rug in the hallway. Consider these quick fixes to eliminate tripping hazards:
- Add extra 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.
- 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.
- Install grab bars. Having 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 and can 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.
The National Council on Aging offers more information on their website and our own safety guide is available here.