Learn the facts and how to decrease your likelihood of falling
Did you know one in four adults, aged 65 and older fall each year? Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Falls result in more open wounds, bone fractures and brain injuries than any other cause, and are the most common cause of injury visits to the emergency room for older adults. In fact, each year, 2.8 million older Americans are treated in ERs for fall injuries.
As you age, your risk of falling becomes greater, regardless of how healthy your lifestyle is. This is because of changes in vision and balance, along with other medical and physical conditions. Most people also lose bone density as they age, so the risk of broken bones from falls is a greater concern.
“We help treat patients after they’ve fallen, but more importantly, we want to prevent falls from happening in the first place, if we can,” says Brian Schmidt, MD, medical director of trauma services at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. “The first step is to educate people on the steps they can take to ensure their safety. And, for those people who have fallen before, there is often a debilitating fear involved with future falls. So, we want to give them the tools and tips to build their self-confidence moving forward so they can go on to lead their normal lifestyle.”
Dr. Schmidt shares the following precautions that older adults can take to lower the risk of falling:
- Have your vision and hearing checked regularly.
- Know the side effects of medicines. Some may lead to loss of balance and coordination.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Wear rubber-soled and low-heeled shoes that fit properly and support your feet. Don’t wear loose-fitting slippers that could cause you to trip.
- Be careful on wet or icy sidewalks.
- Exercise regularly to stay flexible and keep your bones strong.
- Talk to your physician about all of the above, and the potential for falling
“Older adults should feel comfortable talking with their physician about falling and how to reduce the risks,” says Dr. Schmidt. “A physician can review your medications to see if any might be making you dizzy or sleepy, and can also recommend things like taking vitamin D to improve bone, muscle and nerve health.”
Preventing falls at home
Most falls happen at home. Dr. Schmidt offers a few proactive steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling in your home:
- Remove small rugs or use double-sided tape under small rugs to prevent slipping.
- Keep clutter to a minimum. Remove things from walking areas that you could trip over.
- Keep the temperature in your home at a comfortable level. This will keep you from becoming too dizzy from extreme cold or heat.
- Keep items used often within reach, so you don't have to rely on a step stool.
- Install handle bars next to toilets and bathtubs or showers.
- Use nonslip mats in bathtubs and showers.
- Improve the lighting in your home.
- Remove electrical cords from the floor in walking areas.
- Install handrails and lights on all staircases.
Balance and falls in older adults
Having good balance means you’re able to control your body’s position. Dr. Schmidt says many things can cause problems with balance, including:
- Some medicines—for example, medicines that lower blood pressure can make you feel dizzy. Talk with your physician if you notice a balance problem while taking a medicine. Your physician may be able to prescribe a smaller dose or change your medicine.
- A balance disorder, which is a problem of the inner ear. See your health care provider if you:
- Feel unsteady
- Feel as if the room is spinning around you
- Feel as if you’re moving when standing still
- Lose your balance
Take the extra step to prevent falling
St. Joseph Health is committed to reducing the chances of older Americans suffering injuries due to falling. That’s why St. Joseph Health in Northern California has teamed up with Petaluma People Services Center to offer FallProof! classes at Synergy Health Club. FallProof! has been recognized by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) as a best practice program in health promotion. This program is taught by certified FallProof! instructors who have completed a specialized training program through the Center for Successful Aging at California University, Fullerton. To inquire about participation, contact Petaluma People Services Center at (707) 765-8488 or visit petalumapeople.org.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.