Falls are not an inevitable part of aging
You can prevent falls in your home
September 21, 2010
When a 20-year-old falls, it might be painful, inconvenient and embarrassing. When an older adult falls, the consequences could be serious and even deadly. Each year, thousands of older Americans are seriously injured and disabled in home falls. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalization and death among older Ohioans.
Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes. An estimated 13.7 percent of Ohio citizens are 65 years of age or older, yet they account for more than 80 percent of fatal falls, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Nationally, one in three adults 65 and older falls each year and, of those who fall, 20 to 30 percent suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard for them to get around or live independently and increase their chances of early death.
It is not only the physical effects of falling that can be devastating. For many older adults, the fear of falling can have as much, or more, of an impact than an actual fall. Fear can lead to self-imposed activity restrictions, social isolation and depression, seriously affecting older adults' quality of life. Limited activity can lead to reduced mobility and physical fitness, in effect increasing the person's risk of falling.
There are many causes of falls for older adults. Eyesight, hearing, muscles and reflexes might grow weaker with age. Diabetes, heart disease, or problems with the thyroid, nerves or blood vessels can affect an older adult's balance. Some medicines can cause dizziness. Osteoporosis makes bones weak and more likely to break easily, meaning even a minor fall might be dangerous.
To prevent falls, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that older adults:
- Exercise regularly. Exercises, such as Tai Chi, make you stronger and improve your balance and coordination.
- Have your doctor or pharmacist look at all the medicines you take, even over-the-counter medicines, including vitamins and herbal supplements. As you get older, the way medicines work in your body can change. Some medicines, or combinations of medicines, can make you sleepy or dizzy.
- Have your vision checked at least once a year by an eye doctor. You may be wearing the wrong glasses or have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that limits your vision. Poor vision can increase your chances of falling.
- Wear shoes both inside and outside the house. Avoid going barefoot or wearing slippers.
About half of all falls happen at home. To make your home safer:
- Remove things someone could trip over, like papers, books, clothes and shoes, from stairs and walkways, and move furniture so there is a clear path through rooms.
- Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping.
- Keep often-used items in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool.
- Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower and use non-slip mats or self-stick strips on the bathtub and shower floors.
- Improve the lighting in your home. As you get older, you need brighter lights to see well. Replace all burnt out light bulbs you can easily reach and install night lights.
- Have handrails installed on all staircases and fix any loose or uneven steps. Make sure the carpet is firmly attached to every step, or remove the carpet and attach non-slip rubber treads to the stairs. Paint a contrasting color on the top edge of all steps to make them more visible.
In various parts of Ohio, the evidence-based wellness program, A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns about Falls, can help older adults see falls as preventable. Through eight, two-hour group sessions, seniors learn to set realistic goals for activity, master strength and balance exercises and discover how to change their environments to reduce risk.
Call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678 to find available programs to help older adults prevent falls in the home.
About Aging Issues
Twice each month, the Ohio Department of Aging delivers Aging Issues, a column from Director Barbara E. Riley that examines topics of interest to older Ohioans, their family members and others who care for and serve them. Aging Issues is intended for personal use as well as re-publication in newspapers, newsletters and other publications with older adults as a target audience.
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