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Older Adult Falls Are Often Preventable

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Fall injuries among the elderly are a frequent occurrence. Each year, more than 1.6 million older U.S. adults go to the emergency room for fall-related injuries. Unintentional injuries are the fifth leading cause of death in older adults. Falls cause two-thirds of the deaths from unintentional injuries and are a major reason for the 40 percent of admissions to long-term care facilities.

"Falls in the elderly are often preventable," said Dr. Robert Hutton, chief of emergency medicine at Baptist Hospital. "Many fail to report falls to their physician or family due to fear of losing independence or because they don`t know the importance of evaluating the cause of their fall to reduce the chance of falling again."

Risk factors for falls include lower extremity weakness, balance disorders, functional or cognitive impairment, taking four or more prescription medications, environmental factors and illnesses like arthritis, heart disease, hypertension or stroke.

The risk of falling can be reduced by taking a few precautions at home and with your health:

- Check the home for things that increase the chance of falling, such as loose rugs, electrical or phone cords and furniture or boxes that jut out into walkways or near staircases.

- Place night lights in frequented rooms, including the bedroom and bathroom.

- Keep a flashlight by the bed incase the power goes out and you need to get up.

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- Install hand rails on both sides of stairs and walkways in the home and yard and ensure existing hand rails are sturdy.

- Avoid carrying heavy or bulky items up stairs.

- Install grab bars near the toilet and bathtub to get up and down more easily.

- Place non-slip decals in the shower.

- Wear a proper pair of shoes –backless shoes and slippers, high-heeled shoes, shoes with smooth leather soles and running shoes with rubber toes are examples of unsafe footwear that could cause a fall.

- Take at least 1200 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D daily for bone strength.

- Be physically active – incorporate core muscle and balance exercises to improve strength and balance. Your doctor can help determine a physical fitness plan.

If you fall, try to stay calm. Take a minute to get over the shock, push yourself to a seated position and then gradually crawl to a sturdy chair. Put your hands on the chair and slide one foot forward until it is flat. Keeping the other leg bent, slowly rise and turn your body so you can sit in the chair. It is imperative to let your family and physician know about your fall as soon as possible.

"Don`t let the fear of falling prevent you from enjoying every day life," added Dr. Hutton. "Just take a few extra precautions to prevent falls from happening."