It's fall! The perfect season for leaves turning gorgeous colors, crisp weather, tailgate parties, and more. And the ideal time to have a discussion about a different type of fall --- the kind that trips up one in four older Americans every year.
Everyone of every age occasionally takes a spill. But for seniors, falls can be a serious health concern, so much so that they are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people 65 and over.
A very expensive trip.
Most falls all aren't that severe. But 20% --- one out of every five --- causes a serious injury such as head trauma or a broken wrist, hip or other fractured bones. Hip fractures are a particular problem for older people, sending at least 300,000 seniors to the hospital every year.
Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, a condition that can be exacerbated if the patient is taking blood thinners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the annual medical costs for falls in the US can exceed more than $50 billion!
The world's worst reason to keep secret.
As common as falling is, you'd think there wouldn't be a problem admitting you’ve taken a spill. Yet only half of people who have fallen tell their doctor. Maybe they don't feel it was serious enough to report. Maybe they're embarrassed for friends and family to find out. But if you have fallen once and you don't address the reasons why, there's a better than average chance you might fall again --- and this time seriously.
There are certain risk factors that contribute to falling, and these increase with age. Contributing factors can include lower body weakness, deficiencies in essential nutrients like vitamin D, vision issues, and prescription or over-the-counter medications that can affect walking and balance. Homes with lots of steps and stairs and a cluttered environment can also increase the risk of falls.
Take steps to prevent falls for you or someone you love.
To help reduce the chance you or a loved one is injured by a fall, take an audit of yourself and your surroundings.
• Find out from your doctor if you a
re taking any medications that might make you tired or dizzy. Also ask if vitamin D might be lacking in your diet.
• Get a regular eye exam. If things sometimes seem closer or farther away than normal, it could be your bifocals. Your eye doctor can prescribe an extra pair of distance glasses designed for outdoor activities.
• Safety proof your home. Your living quarters should have plenty of light, railings on stairs, and grab bars in the bathroom. And throw away those throw rugs --- they are a fall waiting to happen.
• Strengthen your body and bones. Regular moderate exercise adds to lower body strength and helps improve your balance. And choosing a healthy diet loaded with vitamins and minerals helps strengthen bones and provides the tools for a quicker recovery should you injure yourself in a fall.
Organizations like the CDC, the National Council on Aging, and many others have made available home assessment checklists, community-based programs and other tools to help older adults reduce their risk of falling. At the same time, dietary programs such as MemoryMeals® can provide many of the types of nutritional foods that help seniors maintain healthy bodies.
Make sure you take advantage of the resources in your area so seniors can keep putting their best foot forward.