Next Sunday, 22 September, is Fall Prevention Awareness Day in the United States and that means it's time for our annual reminder about how important it is to do everything possible in your life to prevent falling.
FACTS ABOUT FALLS
Here are the good – and frightening – facts about falls we should all know and pay attention to, collectively and individually:
- One-third of all Americans age 65 and older fall each year.
- To think about it another way, every 15 seconds an elder is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury.
- More than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falls.
- Men are more likely than women to die from a fall. After taking age into account, the death rate from falls in 2009 was 34% higher for men than for women
Many elders have multiple health problems and the more you have, the more likely you are to fall. Here are the most common health problems related to falling:
- Difficulty walking or moving around
- Four or more medications
- Foot problems, unsafe footwear
- Blood pressure drop on standing up/dizziness
- Poor vision
- Tripping hazards in the home
And here is a handy chart that should scare the pants off you about health problems related to falls:
All right. Does everyone get it that fall-related injuries are a major cause of pain, disability, loss of independence and premature death in elders? Or have I overdone that part?
Most falls can be prevented but we need to make some adjustments to our lives to keep ourselves and others safe. Here is a good general list:
- Exercise. It makes you strong and improves balance.
- Stand up slowly after you have been sitting or lying down to help avoid dizziness.
- Have your vision checked every year. If you can't see well, you have a higher risk of falling.
- Ask your physician or pharmacist about the drugs you use – prescription and over-the-counter. Some can cause sleepiness and dizziness that can lead to falling.
- Do a safety assessment of your home and then make the necessary changes.
In regard to that last item – fall proofing your home – here is a partial list of important measures you can take to ensure your safety.
- Increase the lighting; no dark areas or corners
- Add grab bars in the tub, shower and next to the toilet
- Always wear shoes with non-skid soles – even indoors
- Remove all throw rugs
- Immediately wipe up all spills
- Install nightlights to lead you to the bathroom
- Use non-skid mats in the shower and on the bathroom floor
- Remove clutter from floors to prevent tripping
• The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Falls Checklist
• National Council on Aging (NCOA) section about falls prevention
• Kaiser Permanente has a good story with a short video about how practicing tai chi can help prevent falls. Some senior centers have free or low-cost, regular classes.
• Harvard Magazine has some addition information about the health benefits of tai chi.
As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) used to say in every episode of Hill Street Blues:
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Fish Tales