One in four Americans ages 65 and above – 29% of seniors – fall each year.
Although we hope they’ll get right back up, many cannot. They might sustain bumps and bruises, strains and sprains, and broken bones, and lasting trauma. Every year, 3 million older adults will be treated for fall-related injuries in the emergency room, with 800,000 having to be hospitalized following a fall.
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal injury and nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. Beyond physical injuries, falls also can lead to overwhelming fears of falling, loss of independence, and social isolation.
Falling down is often viewed as an inevitable part of aging, but it doesn’t have to be. Researchers continue to report encouraging findings that pinpoint reasons why seniors fall, as well as steps older Americans can take to prevent falls. In October, the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging released a bipartisan report calling for more concerted efforts to prevent falls among the elderly.
“In addition to the physical and emotional trauma of falls, the financial toll is staggering,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R–Maine. “Now is the time, and now is our opportunity, to take action to prevent falls.”
It’s estimated that older adults incur $50 billion annually in falls-related medical costs, a number that’s expected to double by 2030.
“We must dispel our loved ones of the stigma associated with falling so that they can get the help they need to age in place – where they want to be – in their homes and communities,” added Sen. Bob Casey, D–Penn.
A variety of factors contribute to falls among seniors, including an overall decline in physical fitness, chronic conditions like arthritis or Parkinson’s that can weaken the body, poor vision, orthopedic concerns, neurological disorders, side effects from medications or issues impacting muscles, joints and nerves.
Falls can be prevented.
The Committee on Aging made recommendations in four key areas: raising awareness about falls-related risks, improving screenings and referrals, targeting modifiable risk factors, and reducing the use of drugs that can contribute to falls.
The first, and most important, step for seniors and their family members is to consult with a physical therapist for a fall-risk screening, which will help identify each patient’s unique strengths and functional limitations that make an individual more susceptible to falls. A comprehensive balance therapy program includes an evaluation of a patient’s gait, or walking skills, to determine potential problems with strength, posture and other conditions. Hip and ankle weakness, as well as poor posture, often lead to balance problems.
An experienced physical therapist also will develop an individualized program for core and lower extremity strength, balance, endurance and flexibility, and outline steps to prevent future falls.
Five additional steps to help prevent falls include the following:
- Assess the home environment: Keep floors, hallways, and stairs free of clutter, and ensure that indoor and outdoor walkways are well-lit. Consider adding grab bars in the shower or bathtub, as well as handrails on both sides of staircases. Make sure sidewalks have no cracks that are potential trip hazards and that steps are not too steep.
- Prioritize regular exercise: Minimal impact exercises can help build stability, strength, and flexibility, abilities that often decline as individuals age.
- Choose the right footwear: Wear shoes with slip-resistant soles and adequate heel support. Limit movement to even surfaces; thick grass, nature trails, throw rugs, and sand each present a potential trip hazard.
- Examine prescription labels: Understand potential side effects with medications, which can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea or sleepiness.
- Visit the doctor: Annual appointments with a primary care physician are crucial, but so too are yearly visits to an optometrist and otolaryngologist. Your eyes and ears are two very important keys to stability as you age.
As always, consult with a trained medical professional prior to making any substantial exercise, dietary or lifestyle changes.
FYZICAL – Mel Beach can help! If you or someone you know suffers from imbalance, keep in mind that early intervention is key. FYZICAL’s treatment and recovery protocols include utilizing cutting-edge equipment that isn’t available at any other outpatient physical therapy or treatment center in the area.
We offer FREE Assessments to identify individuals of all ages and conditions at risk of falling. By identifying risk, future injuries can be prevented. Our skilled physical therapists will create a program specifically tailored to your needs, so you can begin your quest to regain your footing, your confidence, and your freedom.
Check out your local physical therapists office for a fall risk assessment!