Falls are a Leading Cause of Injury in Older Adults

The increased risk of injury due to falling is a serious issue facing aging individuals.  As we age, several factors increase our risk of falling.  After the age of 55, individuals are at an increased risk of falling and that risk increases significantly with every 10years of age beyond 55.  Falls can vary in severity.  Some may result in no injury while others may be severe enough to break bones, tear tendons or ligaments or cause death.  Therefore, it is important to take steps to prevent falls and the likelihood of injury due to falling.

Many of the changes that come along with aging increase your risk of falling.  As we age and our activity levels decrease, so does our balance and strength.  There are many conditions prominent in older individuals that add to the risk of falling such as poor vision, inner ear problems, and loss of sensation in the legs and feet.  In addition, medications can have side effects that affect balance.

Environmental factors such as dim lighting and cluttered areas also increase your risk of falling.  Stairs and variations in walking surfaces may be a challenge for people as they age as well.  These may be obstacles you encounter in the home or in the community.  It is important to identify all of the factors, both personal and external, that put you at an increased risk of falling.

Here are some things you can do to identify the things that may increase your risk of falls and injuries due to falls.

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the possible effects of your medications on balance.
  • Have your vision tested regularly.
  • Identify obstacles and tripping hazards in your home.
  • Check for adequate lighting throughout your home and outdoor walkways.
  • Get annual foot checks for proper sensation levels.
  • Get your bone density checked.
  • Get an emergency alert system if you live alone or spend long periods of time at home alone.

Once you have identified all of the things that may contribute to you taking a fall and suffering serious injury, it’s time to take action to prevent it from happening.

  • Keep your glasses prescription up to date and glasses clean
  • Stay active to prevent loss of balance and strength
  • Wear well fitting, non-slip footwear
  • Clear clutter from the floors, stairs and walkways indoors and outdoors.  This includes throw rugs which are a fall hazard for people of all ages.
  • Keep your rooms bright.  Replace broken or dim light bulbs with brighter ones.
  • Install grab bars and non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower

If you have had more than one fall or an injury due to a fall in the past 6 months, you are at risk of falling in the future.  It is important for you to be evaluated by your physical therapist to determine the cause of your falls.  Physical therapists are skilled at evaluating and treating issues of balance, strength and endurance as well as vestibular disorders.  A treatment program will be designed for you based on your specific needs and goals to prevent you from falling in the future.

Remember that falls and the resulting injuries are preventable with proper action.  The most important thing to do is to be aware of the risk of falling as you grow older.  Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about falls before they happen.