By Optum Staff

Falls are Not an Inevitable Consequence of Aging

Tips for Fall Prevention 

National Fall Prevention Awareness Day is September 22. The more we know about typical causes for falls, the better we are able to prevent them.

Preventing falls may seem to be more of a safety topic than a medical topic, but it is an important health topic, especially for older adults. Physical changes, health conditions, and sometimes medications can increase our risk of falling. 

Falls pose a risk for people of all ages, despite their level of fitness. For older adults, however, falls are a major threat to health and independence. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four adults aged 65 and older experiences a fall each year, and falling once doubles your chances of falling again. Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries. In addition, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.

According to the CDC, one in five falls causes significant injury such as a broken bone or head trauma. These injuries can make it difficult for a person to get around, do everyday activities or live on their own. The CDC warns that falling results in diminished activity, which in turn leads to increased weakness and subsequently more falls.

Falls are preventable. Falls are not an inevitable consequence of aging. They occur more often among older adults because risk factors increase with age. 

Why People Fall 

Some of the most common risks for falling include physical impairments, medication side effects and environmental hazards. 

Other physical issues that can lead to falls, especially in older adults, are use of medications such as antidepressants, tranquilizers and sedatives, Vitamin K deficiency, difficulty walking, poor balance and foot problems. Further, certain diseases, such as osteoporosis (porous bones) can magnify the extent of injuries from a fall.

America’s Health Rankings underscores the CDC’s advice: “Contributing factors for falls, and related injuries such as hip fractures, include poor balance, poor vision, certain medications, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, osteoporosis, physical disabilities and general frailty. 

Additionally, hazards in the environment that increase the risk of falling include broken or uneven steps, throw rugs and a host of other impediments. In my experience, working with patients of all ages and especially older adults, pets are a frequent cause of falls. Getting tangled in dog leashes and getting pulled over by dogs is not uncommon. 

One of the most serious fall-related injuries is a broken hip. It is difficult to recover from a hip fracture, and the chances of breaking a hip increase as we age. According to the CDC, each year more than 300,000 adults 65 and older are hospitalized for hip fractures, and more than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling.

Preventive Measures

There are important steps you can take immediately to avoid falls and maintain strong, healthy bones.

  • Have your doctor check your vitamin D levels, an indication of strong bones.
  • Stay active with light exercise like Tai Chi, which can help improve balance.
  • Check your home for hazards. Remove throw rugs, keep electrical cords against the wall and clear excess furniture and anything else that could cause you to trip.
  • Make sure rooms and hallways are well-lit. Increase light in the home by replacing your light bulbs with brighter ones.
  • Have your eyes and feet checked every year, and more often if you have diabetes or an eye disease. 
  • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
  • Keep items you use frequently on counters and lower shelves to avoid needing a stepstool.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and provide support inside and outside the house.  

Talk To Your Doctor

The No. 1 recommendation by the CDC to prevent falling is to speak with your doctor about your medications, any previous falls or near misses, and your current health condition. If necessary, your doctor can refer you to an occupational or physical therapist. 

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