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'Fall' Should Be a Season, Not a Reason for a Hospital Visit

Editor's Note: May is Older Americans Month. This years theme, "Safe today, healthy tomorrow," focuses on helping older people be safe and active as they age so that they can enjoy those extra years.

Most of us fell for the first time as we were learning to walk. And for many, that probably wasn't the last time it happened. The consequences of a fall increase with age and can culminate in a loss of independence.

Falls are the leading case of injuries among people age 65 and older. According to the Administration for Community Living, falls by older people result in:

  • More than 21,700 deaths each year
  • 2.4 million emergency room visits
  • $30 billion in direct medical costs

How to Prevent Falls

Falling is not inevitable as we age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests these ways we can all play a role in preventing falls.

They suggest encouraging older people in your life to:

  • Get some exercise. Lack of exercise can lead to weak legs and this increases the chances of falling. Exercise programs such as tai chi can increase strength and improve balance, making falls much less likely.
  • Be mindful of medications. Some medicines — or combinations of medicines — can have side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness. This can make falling more likely. Having a doctor or pharmacist review all medications can help reduce the chance of risky side effects and drug interactions.
  • Keep their vision sharp. Poor vision can make it harder to get around safely. Older adults should have their eyes checked every year and wear glasses or contact lenses with the right prescription strength to ensure they are seeing clearly.
  • Eliminate hazards at home. About half of all falls happen at home. A home safety check can help identify potential fall hazards that need to be removed or changed, such as tripping hazards, clutter and poor lighting.

What to Do if You Fall

  • If you fall, stay as calm as possible. Take several deep breaths to try to relax. The National Institutes of Health offers these tips for getting up after a fall.
  • Remain still on the floor or ground for a few moments. This will help you get over the shock of falling.
  • Decide if you're hurt before getting up. Getting up too quickly or in the wrong way could make an injury worse.
  • If you think you can get up safely without help, roll over onto your side.
  • Rest again while your body and blood pressure adjust. Slowly get up on your hands and knees, and crawl to a sturdy chair.
  • Put your hands on the chair seat and slide one foot forward so that it is flat on the floor. Keep the other leg bent so the knee is on the floor.
  • From this kneeling position, slowly rise and turn your body to sit in the chair.
  • If you're hurt or can't get up on your own, ask someone for help or call 911. If you're alone, try to get into a comfortable position and wait for help to arrive.

Fear of Falling Again

Many older people who have fallen are afraid of falling again. Even if a fall doesn't cause injury, the fear of falling again might prevent you from doing activities you enjoy or need to do. Fear of falling also might cause you to stay at home away from your friends, family and others.

Your muscles and bones can weaken over time without the physical activity that comes with doing daily tasks or exercise. As a result, you could become more — not less — likely to fall.

If you're worried about falling, talk with your doctor or another health care provider. Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. Physical therapy can help you improve your balance and walking and help build your walking confidence. Getting rid of your fear of falling can help you to stay active, maintain your physical health and prevent future falls.

(May 13, 2014)


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