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Prevention

Reducing Risks of Falls and Injuries

Every second of every day, an older adult falls.  While most incur only bumps and bruises, more than seven million sustain injuries serious enough to require medical attention or hospitalization.  In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related deaths among adults 65 years and older – and the risk of falling increases with age.

Falls are a serious concern for older adults. As we age, our joints and muscles weaken, our flexibility wanes and our gait and balance tend to worsen. We may experience arthritis, osteoporosis, vision or hearing loss, cognitive challenges and other conditions that may limit our abilities.  All of these factors can contribute to an individual’s fall risk – and increase the likelihood of fractures, traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries.

Statistics indicate that this is a growing problem, with about 10,000 baby boomers joining the ranks of seniors each day.  It is expected that by 2030 there will be more than 74 million older Americans, and about two-thirds of them will suffer one or more falls. This will impact their overall health, independence and quality of life.

However, the good news is that falls are preventable – or at least individuals can take steps to minimize their risk of falls and injuries. Falls do not have to be an inevitable outcome of aging. A recent study by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a national group of physicians and other medical professionals, found that multiple interventions including lifestyle adjustments, home modifications,  regular medical check-ups and, in particular, exercise can substantially reduce the risk of falls.

To help reduce your risk of falling, here are three top tips:

  1. Schedule head-to-toe check-ups
  • Undergo a fall risk assessment and openly discuss any issues with balance, dizziness, tripping or falling with your physician or a physical therapist.
  • Review medications. Some may make you dizzy or sleepy, and that could result in a fall.
  • Monitor your blood pressure, glucose levels and other key factors to avoid light-headedness.
  • Have an annual eye exam and get new glasses if needed.
  • See a podiatrist or orthopedic specialist for any foot problems.
  1. Get Moving
  • Participate in an exercise regimen that focuses on improving core strength, balance and flexibility.
  • Consider adding resistance training to daily exercise to help build and maintain strong bones, joints and muscles.
  1. Target Home Safety
  • Conduct a home safety assessment to identify any areas needing attention or repairs.
  • Keep living space clear of clutter. Look for potential hazards, such as wires or throw rugs that may cause a trip or fall.
  • Make sure the home has adequate lighting both inside and out and secure handrails on stairs. Install grab bars in bathrooms and showers.
  • Consult an occupational therapist who can make recommendations to enhance the overall safety and functionality of your home environment.

A fall can have a serious and devastating effect on an individual, as well as their family. By understanding the risk factors and taking the appropriate steps to prevent falls, individuals can not only survive but thrive in good health as they age.

Uri Adler MD is Medical Director, Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation (www.kessler-rehab.com), one of the top physical rehabilitation facilities in the nation.