Most of us, at one time or another in our life, have taken a fall or two. Maybe you were climbing on a chair instead of a safety stool, or you fell over the kids or the dog’s toys scattered around the house or on the stairs, or maybe you’ve fallen over something that was in your way that you either didn’t see, or you had no idea was there. Perhaps you’ve stumbled on uneven ground or a sidewalk, or you have slipped on ice during winter months.
If you are one of the lucky ones, you got up after falling, dusted yourself off and moved right along never feeling any aches or pain. Even if you did feel a little muscle strain, it didn’t last long enough to worry about it, and you didn’t break any bones, or suffer any other noticeable injury.
Not everyone is so lucky after taking a fall. People who have difficulty with their balance, and people with musculoskeletal problems are at greater risk of falling. Those who have difficulty walking due to neurologic problems, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy, as well as many other medical conditions are at increased risk for falls. Poor vision and hearing, as well as ear problems that affect balance can increase fall risk. Urinary tract infections can cause confusion, and gait instability. Osteoporosis and arthritis can cause mobility issues that increase fall risk. Cancer that affects the bones can cause falls. Depression and dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease also can increase the risk of falling.
Remember that falls can happen to anyone, any time, in any place, but in the older population falls are more common. What can be done to prevent falls from happening?
Exercise is a great way to build strength, agility and improve balance.
Anyone can benefit from regular exercise including older adults. Tai chi might be an exercise routine to try; it is a gentle form of exercise that improves balance, agility and decreases stress. Senior centers and large healthcare organizations often have exercise classes specifically designed for older adults to improve balance and strength. Remember to check with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has Guidelines For Preventing Falls available on their web site. Some highlights from the guidelines include getting an annual physical and eye examination, reviewing medications and side effects, eating a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, do not smoke, and avoid excessive alcohol intake. Other tips include wearing well fitting shoes with nonskid soles, tie shoelaces, and replace worn out slippers.
Other helpful suggestions are to make sure that floors, hallways and stairs in the living environment are clear of clutter, be sure that there is adequate lighting, make sure that telephone, extension, and appliance cords are out of walkways, remove throw rugs, don’t stand on chairs or boxes, keep a flashlight handy in case of power outages, and mount grab bars and handrails in bathrooms.
Occupational and physical therapy assessments can be ordered by the healthcare provider to determine home safety, as well as to recommend changes or accommodations to the living environment to reduce the risk for falls and other injuries. Assessment by a physical therapist can determine if there are issues related to mobility, and if adaptive equipment is needed to ensure safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls among adults age 65 and older are the leading cause of injury deaths. The CDC also reports that in 2005 more than 15,000 people, over age 65, died from injuries sustained from falls. Over 1.8 million older adults were treated in the emergency room after falling, and over 400,000 were hospitalized.
Keep safety and fall prevention in mind at all times. If you notice hazards that could cause injury or falls, remove or correct the problem immediately. Whether you are at home, at work or at play, fall prevention is a job for everyone.