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Reducing the Risk of Falling as We Age

Every year millions of people over the age of 65 in the United States fall. At a rate of one in four, falling is one of the most serious threats to our health as we age. Around 800,000 people go to the emergency room as a result of falling.

Falling can cause broken bones, head injuries, and loss of mobility which can have serious long-term impact on senior health. It’s important to know both the risks and consequences of falling and to learn ways to prevent falls from happening.

Risks Factors for Falling

As a general rule, our risk of falling increases as we age. There are certain factors that make that risk higher.

  • Medications Some medications can cause lightheadedness or dizziness. Talk with your doctor about the kinds of medications you take.
  • Low muscle tone This is especially true for core strength and lower body strength.
  • Vitamin D Deficiency Vitamin D is essential for bone health. A simple blood test can show if your levels are low.
  • Previous falls One of the biggest risk factors for falling is previous falls. More reason to prevent ever having the first one!
  • Vision or foot problems Be sure to get your eyes and your feet checked yearly. Poor vision or problems with your feet put you at a higher risk.

These risk factors can put us in a tough bind. The higher our risk, the more cautious we become in how we move. Fear of falling can cause us to move less which only increases our chances of falling.

The best remedy is to talk with your doctor about your risks and ways you can safely navigate this catch-22.

Potential Consequences of Falling

When you’re young, and you fall down it’s often not a big deal. Your bones are strong and your muscles are toned. Often, we simply jump back up. The same type of fall in an older adult looks a lot different. There’s no jumping. Falls can have much more serious consequences.

Falls can result in:

  • Broken Bones Wrists, arms, ankles are frequently broken during falls. A broken hip, which happens to 300,000 elders per year, can land you in rehab for months.
  • Head injuries The most common cause for traumatic head injuries in seniors is falling. Given the importance of brain health as we age, we want to avoid head injuries as best we can.
  • Fatal injuries Falling is the number one cause of fatal injuries in seniors. More than 27,000 seniors die each year from falls—that’s one person every nineteen minutes.
  • Quality of Life Decline After falling, people are understandably frightened of falling again. Many begin to limit their activities, both physical and social. This can result in an even higher risk of falling, social isolation, and depression.

The news isn’t all bad, though. There are lots of ways you can reduce your risk of falling.

Ask Your Doctor About Your Risk About Falls

The first step in addressing your risk of falling is to talk with your doctor. When you get a yearly exam, your doctor should be conducting an individual risk assessment to determine your level of risk for falling. They will ask questions about your activities and how steady you feel on your your feet. Doctors can also observe your movements and assess your balance and strength.

Even if you’re healthy and active, the assessment can establish a baseline and alert you to factors you may not have considered. How you reach for things and what kind of tripping hazards you have in your home may not have crossed your mind as something to address. The CDC has a self-assessment checklist that you can do at home and share with your doctor.

Once you have a sense of your risk factors, it’s time to talk prevention. Since one of the ways to prevent falls is to keep your muscle strength and balance, you want the all-clear from your doctor on what kinds of physical activities are safe for you.

What You Can Do to Prevent Falls

We all like to have a sense of control over our lives. Falling and fear of falling take away some of that sense of control. Take action to reduce your risk and maintain your independence.

  • Keep moving There are so many options for staying active, there is bound to be one that’s right for you. Walking, strength training, gentle yoga, Pilates, gardening, swimming, or tai- chi can all help with muscle tone and balance. If you can’t get out to an exercise class, there are lots of free exercise videoson YouTube you can do at home.

  • Remove tripping hazards Make sure you have clear pathways for walking through your house. Get rid of piles of papers or books on the floor that can easily sprawl out at your feet as you are walking by. Check on area rugs. If they slide across the floor or the corner pulls up, you’ll be better off without them.
  • Use adaptive equipment Ask your doctor about what kinds of adaptive equipment you may need. Grab bars and slip-resistant mats or adhesives can help avoid falls in the bathtub. A reacher can be used for retrieving items from the floor or from up above.
  • Avoid wearing slippers Occupational therapists will tell you they don’t like their clients wearing slippers. People with mobility and balance issues need to wear comfortable, supportive footwear, even inside the house.

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