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Let's Be Careful Out There: Falls Prevention for Elders

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.

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:

Falls Health Chart

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
There is much more to know. Here are some good sources about falls and fall prevention:

• 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


I am very conscious of my footing, almost paranoid about it. I know I am not as steady on my feet as I used to be. Thanks for this column, Ronni.

I am always on the lookout for shoes with non-slip soles, and won't buy if they are not. I wish shoe manufacturers would realize there is a big market out here of old ladies who do not want to fall down.

I have been thinking about this topic recently. I am going to purchase a handle to grab or a hook for outside my shower for my towel instead of using the doorknob... I have "pictured" myself enough times -slipping while reaching for the towel. Guess I'd better listen to that "still small voice"...

Pets, which many of us have and dearly love, can pose a risk. My dog is pretty careful about moving out of my way, but the cat moves silently and can be underfoot or sitting behind me without my noticing. Pet toys can be tripping hazards if not picked up immediately. Walking the dog is good for both of you, but be aware of tripping on leashes and careful if the dog is big enough to pull you off balance. If you have pets, be aware of the additional hazards they pose.

This topic seems to be in the air. We belong to a local chapter of Senior Circle and next months health talk at breakfast is "Falls and Balance." Since we have stairs we are very aware of tripping problems. Many of the hazards mentioned we have eliminated over time. Our pets died of very old age and we aren't planning on any more. We don't wear high heels or other such hazardous footwear. We don't have clutter lying around--most of the time or for very long. And we watch the medications.

Falls do happen. Did not see 3 steps leading down into restaurant 5 yrs ago ~~ broke a hip. Earlier this year, A-fib (total surprise) caused me to faint, fall, and Voila' the other hip was broken. A nano-second can change our lives. I am 82 ~~ my directive physiotherapist has told me I cannot fall ever again :) Be careful, girls !!

A smile emerged seeing the reference to Hill St. Blues - a favorite from long ago, yet I didn't need video to remember what he always said...
You've amazing ability with this daily dose of interesting subjects with referring stories & information!
As I age, I try to consciously keep my attention on the one goal (getting out of shower, carrying laundry, a brisk walk or trail hike, etc) at hand instead of tuning in all the chatter within and outside of myself..after stumbling a few too many times while being captured & delighted by clouds or bird migrations, which I loved to previously do while outside (obviously...).

I've been practicing Tai Chi for a few years now, since a bone density test indicated bone loss. I feel that it has strengthened my legs and ankles quite a bit even though I am a bit lax in doing it every day. Having just returned from a vacation where we walked on cobblestones and uneven ground, am very glad of improvement in my balance which I think is due to having taken up this practice. We are a group of people in 70s, 80s and even one person is 92 and we all agree it is helping us with improved strength and balance.

While visiting my newest grandchild and his parents we were walking back from brunch and I guess I did not notice the uneven sidewalk and started down on my face. Somehow managed to flip and land on my very well padded backside. No damage, except my pride; but I don't know if I could manage that flip again, so I am working on core strength and balance.

A good friend is currently in rehab for an extensive period due to a broken tibia while she was visiting her grandchildren. So she is stuck 2500 miles from her home and friends.

I fell in the bathroom about 8 days ago when my husband and I were on a trip in England. It scared him because he heard me fall hard and shouted "Are you all right?" through the bathroom door. I was OK, but it really hurt a lot at the time.

I confessed to my husband what I was doing, and it was really dumb. I was standing on one leg, shaving the other leg in the sink. All I can say is, "Don't try this at home. Or anywhere else for that matter."

I'm glad someone mentioned pets, particularly cats. I love them, but they will wend their way around my legs while I walk.

My husband installed some grab-bars in strategic places around our house before my mother came to visit years ago. We never took them down and I use them extensively now.

One thing that I think bears mentioning is that older people may use extension cords for heating pads and should exercise great care that they do not become trip hazards.

scary. i hang on wherever i go, especially since my eyesight has gone to pot. I need to read Aldous Huxley's THE ART OF SEEING again!!

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