One in four Americans over age 65 experiences a significant fall every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),. It’s a leading cause of injury among those in this age group, but it’s not limited to older Americans. People of any age can experience a fall if the circumstances are right for it.
It is important to report a fall to your primary care provider, but less than half of people who fall do. Having any type of fall increases the likelihood of experiencing another fall in the future that could be more serious. Additionally, the fall could have occurred due to an undiagnosed health condition or as a side effect of a medication. Your provider at Western Maryland Health System (WMHS) can help you pinpoint the reason so you can avoid future falls. Some of the most common reasons for falls among older people include:
- Deficiency of Vitamin D
- Foot pain
- Hazards in the home such as loose rugs, clutter on the floor, tripping over a pet and uneven or broken steps
- Poorly fitting shoes
- Pre-existing difficulties with balance and walking
- Problems with eyesight
- Use of anti-depressant, sedative or tranquilizer medication or use of certain non-prescription drugs that can affect your balance
- A weakness of the lower body
For most people, falling involves a combination of two or more risk factors. You can protect your health by working with your doctor to identify risk factors and take active steps to prevent future falls.
The High Physical and Financial Cost of Falls
Some falls are minor and don’t cause any injuries, while others cause only minor cuts and bruises. Unfortunately, 20 percent of falls across all age groups are considered serious. They cause problems such as head injuries, broken bones, and hip fractures. A fall can also cause a person to become so anxious about falling again that he or she limits social activities. Here are some sobering facts about falls from the CDC:
- Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Falls account for 95 percent of hip fractures, typically when a person falls sideways onto his or her hip
- Hip fractures require more than 300,000 people to receive inpatient hospital care every year
- Approximately 800,000 people are hospitalized annually after a fall with hip fracture and head injury being the primary reasons
- Three million people over age 65 seek services in a hospital emergency department every year because of a fall
- Serious injuries from falls increased 30 percent between 2007 and 2016 for older adults
At the current of rate falls among seniors, the CDC predicts that falling will cause seven deaths every hour by 2030. Clearly, we all have a long way to go towards turning these numbers around and ensuring that all people remain safe from the possibility of serious injuries due to a fall.
Fall Prevention Tips Everyone Should Follow
Sometimes vision problems develop and cause problems before you’re aware of an issue. That’s why it’s especially important to have a comprehensive vision exam at least once a year. You may need glasses for the first time or require a new prescription. Be aware that some progressive or bifocal lenses can make objects seem closer than they really are and increase your risk of a fall. If you have this type of glasses, ask your optometrist about getting a pair of glasses with only a distance prescription to wear outdoors.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do as you age to prevent falls is to improve home safety. Poor lighting and tripping hazards can cause a fall with serious injuries in a matter of seconds. Here are some specific tips that we recommend at WMHS:
- Add brighter bulbs to rooms that seem dark
- Pick up anything on the floor that you could trip over
- Make sure all carpets and rugs are secured to the floor
- Install railings on both sides of staircases and grab bars in the shower
- If you have a pet, make sure you can see him or her before you start walking across a room
We also welcome you to schedule an appointment with your WMHS primary care provider to evaluate your risk of falling and learn more about prevention steps you can take at home and out in the community. This appointment is the ideal time to request that your provider review your medications to determine if any of them cause dizziness or other symptoms that can affect your balance.
Be sure to engage in strength training and stretching exercises as often as you can. This will improve your leg strength as well as your balance.
Sign Up for a Free Stepping On Class at WMHS
In partnership with the YMCA and the Human Resources Development Commission (HRDC), WMHS is pleased to offer a free seven-week fall prevention class for all interested participants. You will learn more about how to prevent falls in any environment as well as specific fall risks and strength training exercises. If you have experienced a fall already, this class will help you recover as quickly as possible. Please click here to learn more and to view the schedule into the spring of 2019.