Falls are common, often dreaded events in the lives of older people. Aside from the obvious injuries and even death that might result, falling can cause wide-ranging consequences, including pain, loss of independence, mental decline, and decreased activity and mobility.
The treatment of injuries and the complications associated with falls costs more than $20 billion each year. Already a serious national health concern, increases in falls and injuries among older people could reach epidemic levels as the population ages.
Fortunately, research has shown that the majority of falls are preventable. Many medical risk factors for falling can be controlled. Simple common sense precautions can reduce, if not eliminate, this serious threat to the health and well-being of older persons.
Older women, especially Caucasian women, are at highest risk. The number of falls and the severity of injury increase with age and in seniors who, for whatever reason, experience loss of physical conditioning, mobility, and balance. Users of multiple prescription and over-the-counter medicines fall more often. Alcohol use often contributes to falling problems. Those with medical conditions affecting balance and walking ability, such as Parkinson's disease and stroke, also are vulnerable.
Where do falls occur?
Although you might expect falls to occur with risky activities, such as walking outdoors or in bad weather, most falls (more than 60%) happen in the home. Falls in the community account for 30% percent, and only 10% of falls occur in institutions such as nursing homes. Remember that falls can happen at any time, in any place, and to anyone, even when the person is engaging in ordinary activities.
Preventing falls is important at any age, but it is especially important for those who have osteoporosis, because their bones are more fragile and easily broken. Each year, about one-third of individuals 65 years and older will fall, and some will be disabled by the broken bones that can follow. In many cases, a fall can be precipitated by medicines such as sedatives, muscle relaxants, and blood pressure drugs that can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of balance. When two or more medicines are used in combination, these side effects might be worsened. Falls also result from diminished hearing, vision, muscle strength, coordination, and reflexes, as well as from diseases that affect balance.
What to do to reduce your risk of falls
- Regular follow-up visits — Get proper medical evaluation and treatment for conditions causing physical changes. Do not assume you are just "getting older."
- Floors — Remove all loose wires, cords, and throw rugs. Minimize clutter. Make sure rugs are anchored and smooth. Keep furniture in its usual place.
- Bathroom — Install grab bars and non-skid tape in the tub or shower.
- Lighting — Make sure halls, stairways, and entrances are well-lit. Install a night light in your bathroom. Turn lights on if you get up in the middle of the night.
- Kitchen — Install non-skid rubber mats near the sink and stove. Clean spills immediately.
- Stairs — Make sure treads, rails, and rugs are secure.
- Other precautions — Wear sturdy, rubber-soled shoes. Keep your intake of alcoholic beverages to a minimum. Ask your health care provider whether any of your medicines might cause you to fall. Avoid risky behaviors. Do not become unduly fearful about falling, as fear will only encourage inactivity and immobility.
- Take action — Inactivity is dangerous. Exercise improves strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility, which can help you avoid falling in the first place.
What is osteoporosis (brittle bones)?
Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease that can be prevented and treated. Osteoporosis causes bones to become fragile and, therefore, more likely to break. If not prevented, or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine, and wrist.
Any bone can be affected, but of special concern are fractures of the hip and spine. A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair a person's ability to walk unassisted and might cause prolonged or permanent disability — or even death. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.
Millions of Americans are at risk of developing osteoporosis. Although women are four times more likely than are men to develop the disease, men also suffer from osteoporosis.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Falls Among Older Adults: An Overview. www.cdc.gov Accessed 7/9/2012
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Hip Fractures Among Older Adults. www.cdc.gov Accessed 7/9/2012
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Osteoporosis Overview. www.niams.nih.gov Accessed 7/9/2012
- National Institute on Aging. AgePage: Falls and Fractures. www.nia.nih.gov Accessed 7/9/2012
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/6/2012...#10577