February may be the month for falling in love, but that’s the only kind of falling any of us wants to do.
Falling is the number one cause of accidental deaths among older adults, and more than a third of people 65 and over fall each year. (Falls after 50)
Consider these startling statistics from the Ohio Department of Health regarding Ohioans age 65 and over:
- On average, an older adult falls every minute. This results in three deaths per day, two hospitalizations each hour and an emergency department visit every six and a half minutes
- From 2000-2015, there was a 201 percent increase in fatal falls and a 147 percent increase in the fall death rate
- In 2015, there was an average of three fatal falls each day
- The estimated cost of fatal falls is nearly $2 billion annually
Causes of falling
There are a number of reasons why older adults are prone to falling, and aging alone is not to blame. Falls can occur because of poor lighting in the home, vision changes, hearing loss, or side effects from medications. They can also happen because of hazards around your home such as throw rugs, electrical cords, slippery bathtubs and clutter on the floor. Even your cat or dog, who is innocently curled up at your feet or faithfully trotting by your side, can cause you to fall if you don’t know he or she is there.
How to prevent falls
The good news is that falling is not an inevitable part of aging, and there are precautions you can take to ensure you or your loved one stays safe.
- Conduct a home safety inspection. Take a close look at your home for anything that can cause you to fall. Replace your throw rugs with non-skid ones, fix any loose steps, install grab bars in the bathrooms and buy nonslip mats for the tub. Coil up electrical cords, and pick up shoes, newspapers, shopping bags, and anything else that could be tripped over.
- Sign up for balance classes. While strength and cardio classes for older adults are great, what really decreases an older adult’s chances of falling is balance training. These types of classes use elastic resistance bands and foam pads to strengthen your lower extremities and challenge the body to maintain balance. Tai Chi and yoga are other types of classes that can improve gait, balance and flexibility. (Falls after 50)
- Talk to your doctor about your medications and your vision. Some medications can lower blood pressure or cause dizziness, sleepiness, confusion or light-headedness, which can lead to falls. Discuss your medications with your doctor to see if any of your medications cause these side effects, and if so, what alternatives might be available. Visit your eye doctor regularly to make sure your glasses, if you need them, are the correct prescription.
- Stay active. While it may seem counterintuitive, physical activity can help prevent falls. According to the Mayo Clinic, slow, gentle exercise such as walking, tai chi and water sports improve strength, balance, coordination and flexibility and can actually reduce your risk of falls. If you are concerned about falling while exercising, a physical therapist can create a custom exercise program that can help you improve your balance and gait.
So as we approach Valentine’s Day this month, let’s celebrate and fall for the people who mean the most – spouses, significant others, children or other family members – all while staying vertical.
Additional information and resources may be found at https://sixtyandme.com/
If you’d like more information about fall prevention, keeping your home safe, or how a patient advocate can help, contact Guided Patient Services (http://gpscolumbus.com/contact). We are here for you when and if you need us.