Every 20 minutes, an older adult in the U.S. dies from a fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that a fall-related injury sends an older adult to an emergency room every 13 seconds. Falls are the leading cause of death and injury for adults age 65 and older. However, falls can be prevented.
The ninth annual Falls Prevention Awareness-Day  is today, September 22 — the first day of fall. The observance raises awareness about how to prevent fall-related injuries among older adults through practical lifestyle adjustments.
Falls are serious at any age, but they are especially dangerous for older people who may have osteoporosis and are more likely to break a bone when they fall, says Andrew Forster, M.D. , a primary care physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. And when a bone breaks, the recovery may be difficult.
Some of the reasons people fall include tripping, slow reflexes, balance problems, reduced muscle strength, poor vision, illness, dehydration and medication reactions, Dr. Forster says.
“It’s usually a combination of these factors,” he added. Addressing the reasons people fall can help prevent falls and subsequent injuries. Older adults can follow these strategies to decrease their risk of falling:
1.) Talk to your doctor at least once a year about falls and what you can do to prevent them.
- Ask for an assessment of your risk of falling. “Many physicians conduct a ‘Get Up and Go Test’ to evaluate a patient’s balance and gait,” Dr. Forster said.
- Be sure to share your history of recent falls. Every year, one out of three older adults falls, yet less than half tell their doctor, says the CDC.
- Review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure there are no side effects that may increase your risk of falling. “Some medicines, or combinations of medicines, can make patients sleepy or dizzy and can cause them to fall,” Dr. Forster added.
2.) Have an eye exam every year and update your eyeglasses when needed.
You may be wearing the wrong glasses or have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that limits your vision.
3.) Do exercises that focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance.
“Exercises or physical therapy can be performed with a physical therapist, in a group class or at home,” Dr. Forster advised. “A Tai Chi program is a good option.”)
4.) Dress appropriately.
- Wear low-heeled, rubber-soled shoes
- Do not walk in socks, stockings or slippers.
- Use a cane or walker.
5.) Use a medical alert system with automatic fall detection.
“Lying on the floor for a long time after a fall is linked to serious injuries and hospital admissions,” explained Dr. Forster.
6.) Make your home safer.
- Remove tripping hazards.
- Put grab bars on bathroom walls near tub, shower and toilet.
- Be sure stairs are well lit and have railings on both sides.
- Ensure your home has bright light.
- Use a nonskid bath mat in the shower or tub.
- Keep a portable or cellular telephone close at hand.
7.) Talk to family members and enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe.
Dr. Forster added, “I encourage family members to play an active role in keeping their loved ones safe by coming to appointments and maintaining open lines of communication.”