September is National Falls Prevention month, and with good reason. Falls are the number one cause of preventable injury-related deaths for those 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and falls pose a significant threat not only to the health, but also to the independence, of older Americans. In 2018, one out of three older adults sustained at least one fall.
The number of older adults who died from falls, 32,000 or 88 each day, is expected to nearly double by 2030 (59,000 or 162 per day) as America’s baby boomer population ages. Over 10,000 people in the United States turn 65 every day. Falls are predicted to increase from 36 million to 52 million annually. The current estimated medical cost of falls to our health care system is $50 billion a year.
Falls often result in traumatic brain injuries or hip fractures and vary in severity. A mild fall can affect mobility and activities of daily living (ADLs). Even without injury, older adults become afraid of falling, which increases their risk further and causes them to cut down on their everyday activities. Decreased activity makes the muscles weaker and increases the risk of falling (again).
While falling is not uncommon, it is also not a normal part of aging. Falls can be prevented. Here are some suggestions you might consider doing this month to decrease the chances of you or your loved ones being impacted by a fall:
- Talk about it. Talk openly with your family and your health care provider. Only 37% of older adults ask their health care provider about falls, yet these professionals are very skilled at helping to assess fall risk and discuss why that risk may be increasing. More than 90% of older adults see a doctor at least once a year, so that regular office visit is a good time to discuss if you have fallen within the past year, feel unsteady when walking or worry about falling. Take the Stay Independent Questionnaire. Before you go to the doctor, complete the CDC’s Stay Independent Questionnaire. Answer each of the 12 questions and total yours core. Take the results to your next medical appointment so your healthcare provider can help create a personalized fall prevention plan if needed. .
- Have your eyes, ears and feet checked. Conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts limit vision and increase chances of falling. Hearing loss can result in balance issues, causing you to be unstable. Foot conditions and improper footwear can also contribute to falls.
- Keep an updated list of all your medications and have it reviewed periodically. Four out of five older adults take at
least one prescription medication each day, and more than one-third take five or more daily. While medications are
taken to improve sleep, blood pressure, mental health or chronic pain, the side effects from these can result in a fall.
Medications often change the way you feel or think, and each time your doctor prescribes a new medication it may
increase your risk of falling. As you get older, not only do medications change, but also medicines change the way
they affect your body (similar to food and drinks). Look for changes in vision, concentration, muscle strength,
balance, reaction time, alertness, fainting, sleepiness, or blood pressure. Ask your provider about taking vitamin D
supplements to improve bone, muscle and nerve health.
This article was originally published in the University of Nevada Reno, Nevada Today NSights on Sept. 14, 2020.