7 Ways to Prevent Falls and Related Injuries
I saw a startling statistic that alarmed me, and I think it will alarm you as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an older adult is treated for a fall in the Emergency Room every 11 seconds, and an elderly person dies from a fall every 19 minutes!
Seventy-five percent of older women will take a spill this year and the resulting injuries, economic costs and impact on quality of life are just staggering. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.
Why Do We Fall More as We Get Older?
There have been numerous studies on why older adults tend to fall more than our younger counterparts and why our risk of falling increases as we celebrate more birthdays. The results show risk factors for falls are usually a combination of the following:
Chronic health conditions, reduced strength, being overweight, decreased bone density, poor balance, uncorrected eyesight and slower reflexes can all contribute to “losing our step” more frequently.
Many prescription medicines, such as those for high blood pressure, can cause us to lose our balance or not be sure-footed; many surgeries can also leave us weaker, less flexible and more prone to be off-balance.
By far our biggest risk for falling is our homes, which often are a veritable minefield of fall risks including loose carpets, uneven surfaces, slippery bathroom or kitchen floors and loose railings, all of which are accidents waiting to happen.
How to Prevent Falls
The good news is the risk for most falls, and especially those related to our surroundings, can be easily avoided with a little effort. And even those relating to our physical and/or medical conditions can be minimized as well. So, what can we do? Here is what I would recommend as a minimum:
Do exercises to improve your strength and balance. You’d be surprised at the difference just walking, going up and down a few flights of stairs or taking a yoga class will make.
Wear Your Glasses
If you’re supposed to be wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses, do so. Being able to see where you’re going (literally) can eliminate a lot of trips and falls.
Declutter to Prevent Falls
Declutter your house to make your path from one room to another as clear and “obstacle free” as possible. This is especially true with your grandkids’ toys!
Get Medical Advice
Talk with your pharmacist or doctor about possible side effects of medicines and what you can do to minimize them. Many times, something as simple as getting up more slowly can prevent a fall.
Get stronger light bulbs and consider replacing what you have now with LED bulbs when the others burn out (better light and you’ll also save on energy bills). Make sure you can see where you are going!
Choose impact-absorbing flooring for your home. Although there are only a few studies on the subject, the results have been promising. In a 2015 study in the British Medical Journal, not only did researchers report 69 percent fewer falls on impact-absorbent flooring, but they also reported a reduction in injuries by 59 percent.
Wear Protective Clothing
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests wearing protective clothing such as hip protectors, along with grip-friendly footwear to reduce your chances of slipping.
How to Minimize the Risk of Injury if You Do Fall
Despite doing all we can to prevent falls, they may happen. One day, we may be at the market, outside in the yard or just getting out of bed, and we may fall. But that fall does not necessarily need to land us in the ER or the hospital. There are things we can now do to be proactive.
Talk with your doctor about whether a bone mineral density test makes sense for you. This will help you and your doctor determine how healthy your bones are and identify what you can do to make them stronger.
Ensure your body has all the nutrients it needs to be healthy. This is necessary so you can have healthy bones and increase the likelihood of faster recovery if you fall. You probably already know how important calcium and vitamin D are for bone health, but you may not know magnesium possibly also plays a huge role in keeping bones strong. One study shows magnesium may be very effective in preventing bone fractures in older people.
Broken bones from falls may seem like minor issues compared to conditions like cancer and dementia, but fractures in the aging population are a public health concern that requires us to be proactive. Kaiser Permanente reports women between the age range of 65-69 who break a hip are five times more likely to die within a year as compared to women in the same age group who do not break a hip.
What have you done to prevent falls… either for yourself or a loved one? Have they been working? Do you have other ideas? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.