By Sara T. Pappa
Did you know that every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall-related injury, and each year, more than three million older adults are injured in a fall? That translates to more than 850,000 hospitalizations, 29,000 deaths and $50 billion in annual health care costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While falls are the leading cause of injuries in people over age 65, falls are not an inevitable part of aging. Falls can happen at any age, but as we get older, the risk of a serious injury from a fall increases. This increased risk is due to several factors, including decreased muscle strength, balance and reaction time.
Short and long-term implications from falls include potential disability from injuries, hospitalizations and reducedcapacity for work and household duties. There is also the possibility of reduced independence and quality of life. After a fall, we can also see an increase in social isolation from self-imposed restriction of activity due to the fear of experiencing another fall.
The good news is that we can greatly reduce the risk of a fall by paying attention and taking action on the risk factors for falls. Some risk factors are internal to the individual and include age, having fallen previously, muscle weakness, gait and balance problems, poor or reduced vision, lack of sleep, changes in cognition, a fear of falling and decreased sensation in the feet. Taking multiple medications or changing medication are also risk factors.
Other risk factors are external to the individual. Examples include throw rugs, clutter, exposed electrical cords, lack of bathroom grab bars, small pets and children, lack of hand railings on stairs, poor lighting, uneven sidewalks, slippery surfaces and shoe choice.
So, putting this all together, it is important to make a plan for falls prevention. Most falls are predictable and preventable, and not just the result of a single cause. Your plan should include:
Strength and balance exercises
• Join an exercise class
• Walk on a regular basis
• Get an annual physical
• Get an annual eye exam
• Ask for a medication review by a health care provider
A safe home
• Get rid of throw rugs and clutter
• Check for electrical cords
• Install grab bars
• Install hand railings
• Ensure natural light or brighter light bulbs
Here is a link to a great resource that walks you through your home to check for trip hazards: https://www.cdc.gov/steadi/pdf/check_for_ safety_brochure-a.pdf. For more information about falls and falls prevention programs, visit the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance webpage: https://novafallsprevention.com/home.
The writer is Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance Coordinator.