Falls among seniors can be prevented
Falls are a leading cause of injury among people over the age of 65. Some of the most severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head trauma, can raise the risk of early death. They also can rob people of their independence, making it harder for them to be mobile.
One out of three adults over the age of 65 falls each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2008, nearly 20,000 older Americans died from unintentional fall injuries and more than 2 million were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal fall injuries.
The chances of falling increase with age and among people who have had a previous fall. The fear of falling forces many people to limit their activities and interferes with their quality of life.
Fortunately, no matter your age, most falls are preventable. Falling among older adults is one of the priority areas for our Ohio Injury Prevention Partnership working to raise awareness, educate the public and affect public policy (such as tax relief for home modification expenses) regarding fall prevention.
A good prevention program should begin with a thorough health assessment from your physician to identify risks, especially if you have already experienced a fall. The CDC has identified four major prevention strategies.
• Regular exercise focused on balance and leg strength is one of the most important things you can do. The CDC recommends Tai Chi programs as especially appropriate and beneficial for older adults. Exercise not only can prevent falls, but help you recover after a fall.
• Some medications or medication interactions cause side effects such as dizziness and drowsiness. Ask your physician or pharmacist to review your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
Poor vision can sometimes lead to falls. Have your vision checked each year and update your eyeglass prescription. A pair of single-vision distance lenses may be helpful for some activities such as walking outdoors.
• Home modification is critical because about half of all falls occur at home. Make a thorough review of your home to reduce clutter; secure handrails and banisters; and have adequate lighting, especially in stairwells, hallways and bathrooms. Non-slip surfaces and grab bars can provide necessary support in and out of the shower. Toiletries and other items should be arranged to eliminate reaching and stooping. Outside the home, paints can highlight the edges of steps and create non-stick textures on slippery surfaces.
• Researchers are paying increasing attention to the role nutrition plays in fall prevention and injury recovery. Adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium in food and/or supplements help build bone density to lower the risk of hip fractures.
The Delaware General Health District offers the award-winning A Matter of Balance class for people at risk for falls at Grady Memorial Hospital and other sites. Call 740–368-1700 for information. OhioHealth runs a fall prevention program at the Gerlach Center for Senior Health in Columbus that includes a comprehensive medical evaluation and a customized fall prevention plan. Call 614–566-5858 or visit OhioHealth.com/seniorhealthservices for information.
Tina Young is an occupational therapist at Grady Memorial Hospital.