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Saturday, March 9, 2024

You Will Fall. Get Ready Now

The death rate from falls among older adults is alarming. Act now to keep from becoming part of this statistic.

Americans 65 and older are dying from falls at more than double the rate they did just two decades ago, according to a new study. That makes falling a leading cause of injury death, and a huge cost burden on the healthcare system and seniors. About 800,000 older Americans wind up in the hospital after a fall, usually for a head injury or broken hip.

Falls are Devastating

More than 60% of falls happen at home. Apart from the cost to our stretched healthcare system of over $50 billion every year, falls are often devastating on a personal level. It’s not just the financial hit, which can be substantial if, say, a hip fracture sends you to a managed care facility or causes you to need help at home temporarily or permanently. The healing and recovery process itself can be impactful.

Assessing Your Risk

The National Council on Aging offers a free risk assessment online. The Council’s position is that falls are not a natural part of aging and we should be proactive about reducing risk. You’ll answer 13 easy questions to get your fall risk score and tips on how to reduce your likelihood of a fall.

Strength and Balance Exercises for Seniors

Building strength and balance can be particularly helpful to avoid falls. Any exercise is better than none. One simple thing you can do is to stand on one leg for as long as you can, several times a day. For a great free video featuring fall-prevention exercises, google Johns Hopkins Medicine Fall Prevention Exercises on YouTube.
You may go from being a healthy, active adult to someone who needs months of rehab and therapy, perhaps with surgery. It’s time-consuming at best and may cause depression and despair. Many older adults must cut therapy short because only a certain amount is covered by health insurance. There’s no guarantee you’ll get back to your former activity level or be able to do the things you love, whether that’s traveling or playing with grandchildren. 

Writer Bill First and his wife found out the hard way. First tumbled down his basement steps while carrying a large box and injured his back, requiring surgery and months of rehab. His wife, Tracy, suffered broken bones and a dislocated ankle when their exuberant border collie accidentally plowed into her when it was racing around outside. She, too, underwent surgery and physical therapy for months in a bid to get back to the long walks and horseback riding that had been a daily part of her life. 

Why Do Seniors Fall?

Our bodies lose muscle mass as we age. This leads to poor balance, a reduction in strength and a less steady gait. Our diet may worsen, with inadequate calcium and Vitamin D for bone strength when we’re at greatest risk for osteoporosis, or porous bones. Vision and hearing may be declining, along with reaction time. Our beloved pets cause about 87,000 falls annually, with dogs more than seven times as likely as cats to send a family member to the hospital.

As we age, we take more medications. Antidepressants and sedatives make us drowsy, and diseases like Parkinson’s and hypertension add to the risk of falling. Blood thinners that inhibit clotting are a danger when someone taking them falls and hits their head.

If you’re over 55, you’re going to fall sooner or later. But there are steps you can take to tilt the odds in your favor; to help you fall less and keep you out of the hospital. The good news is, these are things that will improve your health and wellbeing overall. 

Prevention is the Best Cure
Fortunately, there are precautions we can take to keep falls to a minimum:

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications and supplements.
  • Get your hearing and eyesight checked.
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom.
  • Put rails on both sides of stairs.
  • Get rid of small throw rugs or secure them so they don’t slip.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with low or no heels and grippy soles.
  • Add lighting sources to your home and use bright bulbs.
  • Use night lights.
  • Use non-slip mats in showers and tubs.
  • Exercise often to keep agile. 
  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
  • Add gripping tape to bare stairs.
  • Remove clutter from pathways around furniture.

After you’ve made your own home safer, pass on the knowledge to parents and other loved ones. We can reduce this epidemic and make Americans safer and healthier at the same time.