One in every three adults age 65 and older falls every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People 75 and older have the highest fall rate—115 per 1,000 people. Falls threaten the health and independence of older adults and can lead to early death, but can be prevented.
The Consequences of Falls
Up to a third of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries, including lacerations, hip fractures, or head traumas. In 2010, some 21,700 older adults died from injuries caused by unintentional falls.
Hip fractures are by far the most serious consequence of falls. One out of five hip fracture patients dies within a year of being injured; 50 percent will need to use a cane or walker; and 40 percent will be admitted to nursing homes.
And if you’re in a nursing home, statistics show you’re more likely to fall. Other health problems, more trouble walking, and memory issues are all factors in nursing home falls.
Falls seem to create a cycle of injury among the elderly. Many fall victims are so afraid of falling again that they limit their activities, which can lead to a loss of physical fitness and actually increase their risk of falling.
The Good News
Falls can be prevented. Here are some ways to reduce your risk or those of your loved ones:
- Exercise. Focus on increasing your leg strength and improving your balance. Be sure to include weight-bearing exercises. Tai Chi, which emphasizes weight shifting, postural alignment, and coordinated movements, is especially helpful for increasing strength and improving balance.
- Review your medications. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you if your prescription and over-the-counter medications may cause dizziness or drowsiness. Sometimes, it’s not just one medication that can cause problems, but a combination of drugs you’re taking.
- Get an eye exam. At least once a year, have your eyes checked and update your glasses or contact lens if your prescription changes. It goes without saying that poor vision can make it harder to get around safely.
- Make your home safe. Reduce trip hazards, such as loose rugs, in your home. Install grab bars in your tub or shower and next to the toilet and make sure there’s a lamp near your bed. About half of all falls occur at home, so it’s a good idea to conduct a home safety check to remove or change potential hazards, such as clutter, poor lighting, and obstructive furniture arrangements.
- Feed your bones. Take the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D from food or supplements to keep your bones strong. Get screened for osteoporosis and receive treatment if necessary. Learn more about DEXA screening, here.
- Lifestyle modifications. Avoid excessive alcohol intake; wear properly fitting shoes; never walk in your stocking feet; do not smoke; be careful when walking outdoors, particularly in the winter.
By taking the proper precautions, you can reduce your risk of falls and keep yourself from suffering a life-changing event. Falls do not have to be an inevitable part of growing older.