Falls are the leading cause of deaths related to injury among people older than 65. One-third of people in the U.S. age 65 and older fall each year, and that number increases to one in two by the age of 80.One in five falls causes a serious injury such as a fracture or head trauma.
One of the more common injuries sustained in a fall are hip fractures. The average hospital stay for a hip fracture is one week. About 25 percent of patients will need to stay in a nursing home for at least a year.
Even when a person does not sustain an injury from a fall, they often develop a fear of falling, which leads them to decrease their normal daily activities. This further reduces their mobility, which leads to decreased strength, and further increases their risk of falling.
Although these facts are daunting, it's important to realize that falls do not have to be a normal part of aging. Risk of falling can be decreased through the right kind of exercise, education and communication with your healthcare provider, as well as lifestyle and home modifications.
Decreased strength and balance can contribute to falls. A physical therapist can assess muscle strength and flexibility, as well as balance and walking ability through standardized tests. They can then prescribe the most appropriate exercises to address strength, balance and walking deficits.
A physical therapist or an occupational therapist also can do a home-safety assessment and give advice for modifications that can make a home safer. Home hazards that can increase risk of falls include poor lighting, throw rugs, small pets, clutter inside or outside the home and an uneven driveway.
It's also important for an older adult to have regular eye exams because vision can play a significant role in fall prevention. Also, some medications can have side effects that increase risk of falling. It's important to make a list of all over-the-counter medications and prescriptions and discuss them with your doctor.
You can get a personal fall-risk report card at Baptist Health Lexington's Fall Prevention Fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 27 at Baptist Health HealthwoRx Fitness & Wellness Center in the Mall at Lexington Green. This free event will include screenings regarding balance, vision, blood pressure and medications, as well as Tai Chi demonstrations and information about fall-risk home modifications, Lifeline and nutrition. For more information, please call (859) 260-4354.
Dana Lykins is a physical therapist with Baptist Health Lexington's outpatient neurological therapy program.