According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older Americans.
Falls threaten seniors’ safety and independence and generate enormous economic and personal costs. Older adults who fear falling sometimes limit their activities and social engagements. That limited social engagement could then lead to depression, isolation and further physical decline.
The good news is you can take steps to help prevent falls.
It is best to get a hearing and vision screening annually. Problems with vision can result in not being able to avoid an object, especially in dim light. Some hearing issues may be related to the part of the ear that also affects balance.
Some medications can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy, so take the time to get up slowly from a bed or chair if you experience this.
Bone strength is another item to discuss with your doctor. Discuss whether a vitamin D or calcium supplement is needed. Weak bones can equate to fractures and breaks during falls. Your doctor also can run tests to determine bone density and bone health.
It’s also important to remain hydrated, even when the weather is colder. Make sure you drink enough water to avoid feeling weak or dizzy.
Go through each room and remove or repair items that could potentially cause a fall, such as throw rugs, loose carpeting, raised thresholds, or uneven tile or hardwood. Keeps electrical cords and clutter out of walkways and hallways.
Wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles instead of floppy slippers or stocking feet. Sensible shoes may also help to reduce joint pain.
Keep the house well lit, especially at the top and bottom of staircases. Install nightlights that go on automatically in hallways and bathrooms, or leave an overhead light on at night.
Make sure that any stairs in the home have a sturdy handrail. Grab handles can also be installed in the bathroom for safety. Make sure you have nonskid mats in the tub or shower area. Always take care when entering or exiting the tub or shower.
For those that live alone, consider investing in an alert device that will notify first responders for emergency assistance if you fall. It’s also a good idea to keep a cordless phone or cell phone close by.
Almost any activity that keeps you on your feet and moving, like walking, can help maintain proper balance. But staying steady as one ages becomes a challenge because of age-related muscle loss. Muscles hold the joints and bones in place, so losing muscle mass equates to a decrease in stability.
Simple things such as standing on one leg while doing the dishes, walking heel-to-toe, getting out of a chair without using your hands or doing squats can all be beneficial. Working on strengthening the core and lower-body muscles can improve stability. Tai Chi and yoga classes along with working out with weights can all help you build muscle and improve balance.
Fall statistics for seniors
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
- Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
- Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
- Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including more than 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.
- In 2014, the total cost of fall injuries was $31 billion.
- The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.