One in three adults older than 65 experiences a fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in this age group.
In 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries were evaluated in emergency rooms, with more than 600,000 patients admitted and a resulting $30 billion in medical costs.
In older adults, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries and a variety of orthopedic injuries including fractures of the spine, hip, pelvis and upper extremities. Ninety-five percent of hip fractures are the result of falls.
Despite the scope of the problem, there are strategies that can help prevent falls and related injuries.
Maintain your health: Medical problems such as heart conditions can make people prone to fainting spells. Also, certain medication can result in weakness or dizziness. Even if falls result, some medications and vitamins can help support bone density. Make sure to address these issues with your primary doctor.
Keep active: Exercise is important at any stage of life. Regular exercise and even formal physical therapy are important ways to maintain strength and mobility.
Wear proper shoes: The importance of appropriate footwear cannot be underemphasized. Properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles are best. Avoid walking in stockings alone on slippery surfaces.
Nix home hazards: Loose rugs and excess clutter should be removed. Nonslip bathroom and tub mats may be very helpful, as well as additional supports such as handrails and shower chairs. Adequate lighting also should be maintained throughout the home.
Use assist devices: Vanity concerns aside, use of a cane or a walker can be a readily available and necessary fall prevention device. Whether due to balance problems, muscle weakness, decreased mobility or joint pain, these devices can be the last defense against falls. Arthritis-related pain may cause a reflex giving way of the thigh muscles, and these devices may be the only way to prevent a fall in this circumstance.
Though falls are a substantial source of injuries of older adults, these simple strategies may go a long way to preventing injuries, avoiding permanent consequences and allowing adults to maintain their health and mobility.