In movies and on television, falling down is often portrayed as a comic event. In real life, it is not so funny. Falls are one of the leading causes that send people to their local emergency department or trauma center.
In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there were 22,900 deaths in the United States related to falls. Two short years later, in 2013, the number increased to 25,500 deaths. Some 2.5 million falls are reported each year. The cost of treating those that fell rose $4 billion in just one year (2012-13). Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury. In fact, three quarters of reported fall-related deaths are due to traumatic brain injury. The CDC also reports that 95 percent of all hip fractures are due to falls.
Some other sobering “fall” facts:
- Men are 40 percent more likely to die from a fall then women.
- Twice as many women than men suffer a hip fracture in a fall.
- Fall-related health care costs are two- to three- times higher for women than men.
- Fractures account for 61 percent of overall non-fatal fall-related costs.
- Two thirds of those suffering a hip fracture will not return to the level of activity they had prior to the fall.
Thankfully, falls are not an inevitable part of aging. In fact, many falls can be prevented. Everyone can take actions to protect the older adults they care about.
Get some exercise. Lack of exercise can lead to weak legs and this increases the chances of falling. A regular walking program or gentle yoga may be a good start. Remember to check with a doctor before beginning any exercise program.
If you are on medication, have a doctor or pharmacist review all medications. Some medicines—or combinations of medicines—can have side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness. This can make falling more likely.
Since about half of all falls happen at home, eliminating everyday hazards is one of the best ways to prevent falls. A home safety check can help identify potential fall hazards that need to be removed or changed, such as tripping hazards, clutter or lighting. You should keep stairs and hallways free from things you can trip over (such as papers, books, clothes and shoes). Install handrails and lights on all staircases.
Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping. Keep items you use often in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool. If you do have to reach up high, never stand on a chair or another unstable surface. Use the buddy system, and have someone hold the stepstool or ladder in place.
The bathroom is another place that needs close attention to prevent falls. Put grab bars inside and next to the tub or shower and next to your toilet. Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors. In the kitchen or bathroom, be sure to clean up any water or spills on the floors.
Finally, consider changing your footwear as part of your fall-prevention plan. While high heels and flip-flops and strappy sandals may be fashionable, they can make you unstable on your feet and lead to slips and falls. Older adults with a high fall risk should consider wearing properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles.
Falling is no laughing matter. If you have further concerns about your fall risk, be sure to discuss it with your doctor as part of your annual physical.
To help make our senior citizens more aware of the enormity of this problem the Trauma Center at Cooper has put together a program titled “Don’t Fall for Us.” This short 45-minute program will help to bring about awareness of how falls can occur and what you can do to help protect yourself and other loved ones from suffering a fall. We would be happy to come out to your church group, senior’s club, senior community, etc., and present this free program for you.
If interested in this program, please contact Dave Groves, RN, MSN, CCRN, Trauma Outreach/Injury Prevention Coordinator, at 856.342.3430 or by email at email@example.com.