By Anita Jackson
“Falls are an inevitable part of aging. There is nothing you can do to prevent falls.” These myths are commonly believed. However, research tells us that there is much that can be done to reduce and even prevent falls.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, one out of every three people age 65 and older fall. And studies show that falling once doubles a person’s chances of falling again. Each year, 2.5 million older adults are treated in emergency departments, and over 700,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury. Most of these involve a head injury or a hip fracture. At least 250,000 older people are hospitalized each year for hip fractures, and falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries. It is estimated that the direct medical costs for fall injuries are $34 billion annually.
One out of every five falls causes a serious injury, such as a broken bone or a head injury, reports the CDC. Studies also show us that many people who fall, even if they are not injured, then become afraid of falling again. This fear may cause a person to reduce their everyday activity. When a person is less active, they become weaker, which then increases their chances of falling again. Their fear of falling actually increases their chance of doing so.
There are many contributing risk factors, and most falls are the result of a combination of risk factors. Fortunately, there are things that can be done to reduce your risk of falling. First, talk to your doctor or health care provider about taking vitamin D supplements with calcium. According to Maura Keller in her article “Vitamin D’s Impact on Falls,” Vitamin D appears to reduce the risk of falls in older adults by improving muscle function and strength. Also, ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. Even some over-the-counter medications can affect balance and cause you to be unsteady on your feet.
Lower body weakness is also a risk factor for falls, writes the CDC. Exercises that make your legs stronger and improve your balance can help reduce the risk. Ask your doctor or health care provider for a referral to physical therapy. A physical therapist can evaluate your strength and balance and develop an exercise plan for you. He or she can recommend exercises you can continue to do at home to maintain your strength and confidence.
You should have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year, and update your eyeglasses if needed. Poor vision can increase your chances of falling, so it is important to have your vision checked routinely.
Finally, be aware that most falls happen in the home and that they occur because of your surroundings. There are many things you can do to make your home safer. Keep your floor clear of things you could trip over such as papers, books, clothes, shoes and throw rugs. Keep frequently used items in cabinets you can reach without using a step stool. Have grab bars installed inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet. Always use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors. Make sure your home has plenty of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs. Avoid going barefoot and always wear well-fitted shoes while both inside and outside the house.
Many falls can be prevented. By making a few changes, you can lower your chances of falling and suffering a significant injury.
Advent Christian Village Rehab department offers free fall and balance screenings. You can schedule an appointment by calling (386) 658-5865, or request a physical therapy evaluation from your doctor or health care provider.
About the author: Anita Jackson is a licensed physical therapist and has been with Advent Christian Village for over twenty years. She received her degree in Physical Therapy from Florida A&M University in 1997, with additional training in Exercise Science at the University of Florida. She has served as ACV’s Director of Rehabilitation Services since 2002 over both the inpatient and outpatient rehab departments.