The older we get, the more we are at risk for falls. And along with this risk comes the greater chance of serious injury. There have been some studies that suggest that the rate of fall injuries in seniors over the age of 85 is nearly four times greater than for those between the ages of 65 and 74. It’s a very serious problem, but there are some things that can help prevent these types of falls.
Understanding the Danger
According to the CDC, one in every three adults over the age of 65 falls each year, but less than half of them will ever talk to their healthcare provider about it. This, of course, can exacerbate the problem and add to the risk factors, which is why many (almost two thirds) of the people who fall once will fall again within six months. Either the injuries they sustain increase their chances of falling, or they never learn the cause of the fall in the first place and can’t correct the problem.
In 2009, 2.2 million falls were treated in the emergency room, and over 500K required hospitalization. Falls often lead to hip problems, head traumas, and other issues that make another fall much more likely and limit the senior’s independence.
What Are the Common Risk Factors?
Many different elements can contribute to a fall, and it is important to understand exactly how they affect your daily life. Some of these issues may require the help of a doctor, but others may simply be about changing your daily habits. Either way, some of the risk factors that you should be aware of include:
Osteoporosis As we get older, our bones start to become more porous, and they can’t stand up to the same amount of stress that they once did. Anything from decreased physical activity to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies can contribute to this problem.
Medications Any medications that have side effects such as drowsiness or dizziness can lead to a fall. Basically, anything that, in some way, leads to a reduction in mental alertness could be problematic, so you need to be aware of what you are taking.
Impaired Vision Whether through poor lighting or diminished eyesight, if you can’t take in everything about your surroundings, the risk of a fall will go up significantly.
Poor Physical Condition When we stop exercising we will start to notice a reduction in muscle strength and overall balance. This makes it easier to fall if we simply misstep because we won’t have the physical capacity to regain our balance before it’s too late.
Tripping Hazards Most falls happen in the home and because of otherwise innocuous items. It might be because we don’t see them or we misjudge the change in the surface between one room and another.
What Can You Do?
While all these risk factors become more dangerous the older we get, there are still many things we can do to prevent falls and stay healthy.
First, get plenty of exercise. Obviously this should be done within reason because you don’t want to cause even more problems by staining yourself, but you should focus on building leg strength and balance so you will be ready to deal with obstacles and other hazards. You also need to get plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet to keep your bones as healthy and strong as possible (which can include going to the doctor to get screened for osteoporosis).
Next, go through your home and reduce or remove the tripping hazards throughout each room. Get rid of the clutter and make sure that any rugs or cords aren’t going to trip you up. This is also the time to add grab-bars in particularly dangerous areas (the shower or bathtub) and add some extra lighting in otherwise dark rooms and hallways.
It is also important to consult with your doctor about your medications so you know exactly what to expect from the side effects. If you are taking certain medications (and even if you’re not, really), you should also consider limiting your alcohol consumption, especially if you live alone without anyone to help you.
Finally, if you are living independently, and you do suffer a fall despite all your preparations, you might consider a reliable medical alarm system. Many of us believe that a cell phone is enough to keep us safe that we simply have to call the neighbors or a family member if we have suffered an injury. Unfortunately, friends and relatives may not always be able to respond quickly enough, and any injury to a senior should be treated as quickly as possible. A medical alert system is a simple and effective way to make sure you always have access to trained people who can provide the help you need.