Odds are, you know an older adult who has fallen, resulting in cuts, scrapes, bruises or, even worse, hospitalization for a hip fracture or head injury. Unfortunately, according to National Institutes of Health, falls are the leading cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, and injury deaths.
Recent statistics show one out of three adults older than 65 take a tumble each year, and less than half tell their doctor. More alarming, one of every five falls leads to severe injury, resulting in the loss of the ability to live independently and get around.
Fall prevention is possible. It starts with recognizing the two types of risk factors that contribute to falls: environmental and personal health conditions.
Common environmental hazards include uneven surfaces, obstacles such as ramps, curbs and stairs, changing surface textures and inclement weather. Even level surfaces may be hazardous with poor footwear.
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Looking internally, personal health conditions may also predispose an older adult to falling, such as poor vision, muscle weakness, poor balance reactions, arthritis, vertigo, vitamin D deficiency, and use of multiple medications.
The body maintains its balance through three primary systems:
▪ Vestibular system — the sensory system that sends signals to the brain about head and body movements relative to gravity
▪ Proprioceptive and kinesthetic awareness — information from the muscles and tendons telling your brain where your body is in space
See the following health care providers to have these three systems checked regularly:
▪ A yearly eye doctor visit will allow you to see more clearly the hazards around you to avoid them.
▪ Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications. Side effects can sometimes cause drowsiness or dizziness. Vitamin D supplements for better bone health also may be recommended.
▪ See a physical therapist to evaluate your risk for falling and begin specific exercises to improve your core and leg strength for better balance. The physical therapist can determine whether a cane or walker would be necessary to keep you moving safely. The therapist may also recommend specific home safety improvements to decrease the environmental risks of falling.
Often the largest impact from a fall is the development of a fear of falling again, resulting in decreased participation in social activities and reduced exercise. This leads to further weakness and lack of confidence. Wearing an emergency call button may provide an older adult with the confidence to continue participation in daily activities.
Charlie Workman, a licensed physical therapist, is assistant director of Rehab Services at Baptist Health Lexington.