We all know that cancer and heart disease can be deadly, but we often ignore another common health danger that puts lives at risk: Falling. People don’t understand how devastating falls can be if they cause injuries, and the older than 65 group isn’t the only one at risk. Physicians are seeing a surprising increase in the number of people in their 40’s and 50’s with fall-related injuries. Falls are largely preventable. It is important to know the things that may contribute to your own risk of falls and to do something about them.
Falls by the numbers:
- 30% - Percentage of increase in death by falls in older adults between 2007 and 2016.
- 1 in 5 – Number of falls that cause a serious injury, such as broken bones or a head injury.
- 3 million – Number of older adults who go to the emergency rooms each year due to a fall.
- 1 in 4 – Number of adults 65 and older who suffer a fall each year.
- $30,000 - Average cost of a fall-related hospitalization
- 50% - Percentage of older people living in a specific community who say they fear falling.
There are many things that can put you at risk for a fall. Some of these are medical in nature and others are personal risk factors.
Medical risk factors may include impaired muscle function, gait abnormality, irregular heartbeat, blood pressure fluctuation, depression, Alzheimer’s, senility, arthritis, hip weakness or imbalance, neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s or a stroke, vision or hearing loss, cancer that affects the bones, or side effects of medications.
Personal risk factors may include age; activity or lack of activity leading to decreased balance, coordination, and strength; habits including excessive alcohol intake or smoking which decreases bone strength and breathing difficulties; diet meaning poor nutrition which can lead to decreased energy and strength.
There are many things that you can do yourself to lessen your risk of falls, at any age.
- If you feel a medication may be causing excessive balance issues or dizziness, speak to your doctor about an alternative medication or decreasing the dosage if appropriate. Also speak with your doctor if you a patient with hypo or hypertension (high or low blood pressure). Abrupt changes in blood pressure can often cause dizziness, lightheadedness, or even fainting.
- Begin or add an exercise program that helps increase strength, balance, and coordination. Jogging, hiking, stair climbing, dancing, strength training, and other activities can help build bone strength and slow the progression of osteoporosis of the bones.
- Check your footwear. Make sure your shoes are properly fitted with nonskid soles. Avoid high heels. Tie your shoelaces. Never walk in your stocking feet. Replace shoes or slippers that are stretched out or fitting too loosely.
- Do a walk-through of your home, especially the bathrooms and stairs, for fall hazards. Concentrate on the lighting, pathways through the house, clutter on the floors. Install nightlights in dark hallways or routes between your bedroom and the bathroom. Keep a lamp, flashlight, or phone next to your bed as a light getting in and out of bed or in the event of a power outage. Secure rugs with double faced tape. Manage cords out of walking areas. Add grab bars in the bathroom.
- Make a plan in the event that you do sustain a fall at home. Do not panic. Determine if you are hurt. Slide or crawl if able along the floor to the nearest couch or chair and try to get up. If you cannot get up, call for help. If you are alone, slowly make your way to the phone and call 911 or relatives.
There are also many “medical alert” products available now that are made to wear around your neck to be able to summon help should you experience a fall or other medical issue. These monitors respond to people who in turn can notify family or relatives or call 911 for an ambulance. There are also “fall risk assessments” available to be able to see just what your risk of falls is. These are available on the internet or you can ask your physician to go over this with you.
Always be aware of your surroundings – that will benefit you and everyone around you!