Fall Prevention8 minute read

8 minute read

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Updated for December, 2018

Falls are a common fear in older adults–and for good reason. The consequence of a single slip or trip goes far beyond the initial pain. Falling often decreases one’s overall ability to function. It necessitates hospitalization, surgery, and long-term care. It often leads to social isolation, feelings of helplessness, and a fear of falling again.

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The fear of falling is even a defined geriatric syndrome.

The very fear of falling can have a devastating effect on an older adult’s quality of life. It is natural to grow averse to a very painful, unpleasant experience, and someone who has fallen may begin to limit his or her activities. As your body becomes weaker and less agile with age, the fear of falling creates a domino effect of a more sedentary lifestyle and physical atrophy. This, in turn, only makes you more likely to fall. In fact, fear of falling is even a defined geriatric syndrome.

  • One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or head trauma. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.
  • Three million older adults are treated annually in emergency departments for fall injuries.
  • At least 300,000 seniors are hospitalized for hip fractures every year. Over 95% of these hip fractures are caused by falling, with 7% usually by falling sideways.
  • More than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
  • In 2015, the total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs. They are expected to cost the U.S. healthcare system $54.9 billion by 2020.
  • Falls are a leading cause of injury and death in adults over the age of 65.

Talk with your primary care doctor. Discuss your health conditions and how comfortable you are when you walk.

Talk with your primary care doctor. Discuss your health conditions and how comfortable you are when you walk. Be honest about any shortness of breath, dizziness, joint pain, or numbness in your feet and legs. Be sure to share your history of falls and where and how you fell or almost fell. In 2010, the American and British geriatrics societies recommended that healthcare providers ask all patients over 65 about previous falls each year. You can help your doctor by preparing a list of your current prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and supplements. If you have fallen or have experienced gait or balance issues, there are now easy in-office assessments like the Timed Up and Go test. Together, you and your healthcare professional can discuss fall prevention strategies. He or she may also recommend assistive devices or refer you to an occupational therapist.

Talk to your ophthalmologist

Go for your eye exam every year and update your lens prescriptions every time. If you have bifocals or progressive lenses, discuss whether to get a pair of glasses with only your distance prescription for outdoor activities.

Fall-proof your home

Remove cords and other tripping hazards from walkways and secure loose rugs or floorboards. Use nonslip mats in your bathroom and remove low furniture like coffee tables, plant stands and magazine racks from high-traffic areas. Place night lights in bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms, and everywhere you may walk in the dark. Make well-lit, unobscured paths to light switches and consider installing illuminated switches. Make sure that objects like clothes are always easy to reach so you can avoid obstacles.

Fall-proof your lifestyle

Sometimes ensuring your future well-being means adjusting your habits even if you are still healthy and fully mobile. Don’t walk in dimly lit rooms or climb furniture or stepladders when no one is around. Avoid excessive drinking and make sure that your diet is adequate in calcium and Vitamin D.

Reduce your risk from head to toe

Not only do high heels compromise your balance, but floppy slippers and even walking in only your socks can cause you to slip or trip. Put on shoes when you first get up in the morning. Make sure that all your footwear fits properly and offers sturdy support and nonskid soles. Consider taking a favorite pair of shoes to a cobbler to alter for you so you can ensure the perfect fit. The right shoes may even reduce joint pain as an added bonus.

Don’t stop moving

Remaining physically active not only makes you less likely to fall, but it also improves your chance of catching yourself before a fall. Walking, water aerobics, and tai chi can reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. If your physical condition allows, activities like jogging, dancing, hiking, climbing stairs, and weight training can build bone strength and slow progression of osteoporosis.

As you grow older, it’s important to manage your fear of falling as well as your actual risk. That means assessing your likelihood of falls and consciously mapping out prevention strategies. Particularly if you want to age in place at home, a sound safety and wellness plan are great steps to a long, active future in your home.

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