Each year millions of older adults experience falls and fall-related injuries. Falls can be serious and costly, but they can be prevented. Although Falls Prevention Awareness Day is behind us, it’s never too late to educate yourself about the dangers of falls and learn tips to avoid them.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in four people in the United States over age 65 reports falling each year, and fall-related emergency-department visits among older adults are estimated at approximately 3 million per year. In 2016, 30,000 older adults died as a result of a fall.
Significantly more seniors report falls in rural areas (32.4 percent compared to 28.5 percent in suburban areas and 29.5 percent in urban areas), according to the 2018 America’s Health Rankings Senior Report. The report also shows that falls are more prevalent among women aged 65 and older (31.5 percent) than men (27.1 percent).
Falls can present a more significant health threat than many may realize, and, for older adults, they can take a serious toll on quality of life and independence. The National Safety Council lists falls as the third-leading cause of unintentional injury-related fatalities.
“Being aware of the risk factors and taking the proper precautions can reduce your chances of serious injury, help you maintain and improve the quality of your health and remain independent,” said Dr. Efrem Castillo, Chief Medical Officer for UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement.
According to the CDC, there are many things to consider along with tips to avoid falls:
- Vitamin D levels – Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and slows down bone mineral loss. Studies have shown that it can also improve muscle strength and function. Get your vitamin D levels checked by a physician.
- Lower-body weakness – People who have lower-body weakness or have trouble with balance and walking should take extra precautions. Do exercises that can strengthen your legs and improve balance.
- Medicines – Some medicines, including sedatives, antidepressants and other over-the-counter medications, can affect balance. Be aware of what you are taking and how it can affect you.
- Footwear – Pay attention to foot pain and poor footwear. Make sure your shoes fit appropriately and are comfortable. See a doctor if you are experiencing foot pain.
- Clutter – Throw rugs or objects in your path around the home can be problematic. Remove clutter and make sure there is adequate lighting.
- Vision problems - Sight impairment increases with age and can cause issues with balance. Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses as needed.
“Falls are more common than many people think, and all of us are susceptible,” said Castillo. “So be aware of risks from your medications, stay active, clear your home of trip hazards, and talk to your doctor about strategies you could try to avoid a potentially devastating fall.”