Falling down is something that we will all do in life – no matter our age. Parents tend to worry often about their young children falling and injuries they could experience, but falls are dangerous not only for young kids but also for older adults.
Falling is one of the leading causes of injury for those 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports that each year, 30 million older adults experience a fall and there are 30,000 deaths as a result of injuries from falling. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to strengthen your body to help avoid falls, and to be on the lookout for signs of problems to help reduce your chances of falling.
Falling can result in fractures of the shoulder, forearm, head, hip, spine, leg, ankle and hand, among other body parts causing serious pain for older people. Falls can be caused by tripping over, or slipping on, such things as rugs, slippery floors or bathtubs, stairs or pets. With these causes, you can make changes to eliminate the risks of taking a tumble. For instance, you can reduce your chances of falling by removing rugs or using double-sided tape to hold them down, using non-slip mats in the bathtub, adding handrails to the tub or stairs, and making sure your home is well lit.
But sometimes the changes you need to make are not within the home, but rather, changes to yourself to improve your balance and strength. This can be done through exercise classes or yoga, which require balance. You can also do this in your own home, standing on one foot when performing daily tasks like doing the dishes or brushing your teeth. While these actions seem minor, they are helping you build bone strength. You can also maintain your overall health by walking your neighborhood, jogging, hiking, bicycling and climbing stairs, among other activities.
The food and beverages you consume also can be very important as you age. We are all encouraged to drink eight glasses of water a day, but it’s even more important for those 65 and older, as water can help prevent dehydration, dizziness and falls. Eating foods with Vitamin D, like fish, cheese and eggs, or drinking milk and orange juice regularly, can also help increase muscle strength, decreasing the likelihood of a fall.
As we age, it’s important to also remember your annual exams, such as an eye examination or your annual physical. During this checkup for older adults, physicians will often monitor heart and blood pressure to look for signs of a problem and screen for osteoporosis to ensure that their bones are not too weak or brittle. You should also be on the lookout for signs of osteoporosis, which include back pain, a stooped posture, loss of height over time and a bone that breaks easily.
In some cases, the medications you take may be responsible for fatigue or causing a fall. If you are experiencing side effects from any medications, it’s important to alert your physician, as the medications could be causing confusion that could result in falls. Talk to your physician about which medication is best for you and your overall health.
If you have previously fallen and suffered injuries, you may be anxious that this could happen again. While your first instinct may be to avoid physical activities that could lead to a fall, it’s important to not limit these activities. By limiting your mobility, you are lessening your movements and increasing your risk of falling. If you are struggling to move around without falling, you may consider a walker or cane that will help assist you.
While falls can be dangerous, it’s important as you age to take the necessary steps and precautions to help avoid serious injuries. By taking safety measures around your home and staying fit and active, you are decreasing your chances of injuries. Talk to your physician about your risk of falls, and steps you can take to help prevent them.
Dr. Rollins is with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Orthopedics.