Taking a fall can have devastating effects. Each year, three million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. More than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head or hip fracture.
Beth Moses, RN, Trauma Injury Prevention and Education Coordinator for Erie County Medical Center, tells us that falls are the number one reason for trauma admission at ECMC. Forty-four percent of admissions are due to trauma. That translates into close to 1,000 patients being admitted each year due to falls, not counting patients seen in the emergency room. Seventy percent of fall victims are seniors.
Jennifer Johnson, Health Promotion Coordinator for Blue Cross/Blue Shield says, “Although you can fall at any age, risk starts to increase at age sixty-five.” She adds, “Most falls happen at home.”
Johnson says throw rugs are one of the biggest hazards that cause people to slip and fall. Other home factors include clutter and poor lighting. This is especially true in hallways, on staircases, or anyplace where vision is already compromised.
Pets and children can contribute to the problem. “Even when visiting, kids leave stuff on the floor. Make sure it is picked up. Dog toys, bones, and balls need to be cleaned up. Know where your pets are. Pets wandering around the house at night can be tripping hazards.”
Nightlights can make a lot of difference and help us navigate more safely.
Johnson reminds us, “Bathrooms are slippery places. Tile and water is a recipe for disaster.” She suggests using grab bars in the bathtub, shower, or by the toilet for people who need assistance. Never use towel racks, which won’t support your weight!
People who take five or more medications every day are more likely to fall. Medications can have side effects like dizziness, sleepiness, and blurred vision. Go over your medications with your doctor at least once a year to make sure they are all necessary and the right dosage. Some may be best taken before bed.
Johnson says improving our balance and strength decreases the risk of falls. Our leg muscles are the biggest in our bodies, and strengthening leg muscles by walking or dancing helps. You can also do squats and leg lifts
Exercising our smaller muscles is also important, as those muscles help us catch ourselves and help prevent falls.
According to Johnson, “Going up and down on your toes can strengthen calves and shins. Go up and down on your toes a few times. Get in little bursts of strength activity during the day.”
Both Johnson and Moses say Tai Chi practitioners are less likely to experience a fall. Slow strengthening movements and holding poses improve balance and prevent falls.
If you do fall, make sure to tell your doctor even if you think you aren’t hurt. A fall can be an indicator of a medical condition, a problem with meds, or a condition you have that may be getting worse.
ECMC’s Trauma Program is available to speak to your group about fall prevention topics as they relate to older adults or to set up an information booth at an event. ECMC can conduct balance screenings and display safety items from its Falls Prevention Toolbox. Call 898-5184 to request a presentation.
BlueCross BlueShield’s Annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day (FPAD) is September 22, 2018. It's planning a social media campaign around the topic to raise awareness.
A lot of senior centers offer Tai Chi classes. They can be free or very inexpensive, or do it at home with a video.
For more information, visit cdc.gov and search for Older Adult Falls.
Judith A. Rucki is a public relations consultant and freelance writer.
Simple Ways to Prevent Falls
• Do a walkthrough for safety assessments of your home
• Get rid of throw rugs, and make sure your carpet is even
• Improve balance through exercise
• Discuss current health conditions, including current medications, with your doctor
• Have your eyes and hearing tested; slight changes can have a serious impact
• Get enough sleep
• Wear non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes, or lace-up shoes with non-skid soles that fully support your feet
• Always tell your doctor if you have fallen since your last checkup, even if you aren’t hurt when you fall
• Wear an electronic pendant with a button to push to call for help