Falls are NOT a Normal Part of Aging
By SSM Health at Home
If you or a loved one are older than 65, you should be mindful of the threat of falls. One in four older adults fall every year. Many people will brush falls off as a normal part of aging, but they are preventable. They can also be very serious, and potentially fatal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Wisconsin has the highest rate of deaths from falls among seniors in the nation. 1,365 people over the age of 65 died from falls in 2016. That’s a rate of 142.7 deaths per 100,000 people, which is more than double the national average. Some attribute these statistics to a meticulous reporting system, while others believe that they simply showcase the dangers that older adults face.
“The older adult population is vulnerable to falls for numerous reasons,” says Ruth Meyer, SSM Health Physical Therapist. “They are more likely to experience lower body weakness, have vision problems, demonstrate difficulty with walking and balance, and are typically on more medications which can result in negative interactions resulting in dizziness or imbalance.”
If you do fall, it can have a major impact on your life. Hip fractures are one of the most common injuries, and can be difficult to recover from. Nearly 50% of older adults who fall and sustain an injury are not able to resume their former level of independence. Sometimes that means they must move from their home to an assisted living environment. In addition, once a person falls, they are twice as likely to fall again over the course of the next year. So what can you do to reduce your risk?
“First and foremost, talk to your doctor or heath care practitioner,” notes Meyer. “Ask him or her to evaluate your personal fall risk factors and review medicines – both prescription and over-the-counter – to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy.”
Meyer recommends strength and balance exercises, which will make legs stronger and improve balance. She also says many people may not think of them, but there are ways to make your home safer. For instance, increased lighting or brighter bulbs can help you see your environment better. Also consider getting rid of things you could trip over such as throw rugs or obstacles in walkways. It is helpful to have railings on both sides of stairs, and adding grab bars inside and outside the shower or next to the toilet could prevent a slip.
“Lastly, please try to avoid having the ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality,” concludes Meyer. “Falls happen all too often even though many of them can be prevented, and it’s up to you to reduce your risk.”