Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults, with more than 20,000 seniors dying from falls each year. One in three adults aged 65 years and older will fall each year, leaving a significant impact not only on the independence and quality of life of our senior population but also on the viability of our communities and our health care system. Falls create great economic and personal costs. More than $28 billion a year is spent on treating older adults for the effects of falls and, by the year 2020, the annual direct and indirect cost of fall-related injuries is expected to reach $54.9 billion.
The good news is that falling is not an inevitable part of the aging process. Middle-aged and older adults can reduce their risk of falling by knowing their fall risk factors and implementing appropriate strategies to reduce their fall risk. The risk of falling significantly increases when you have a sedentary lifestyle, muscular imbalance and/or weakness, compromised balance/coordination, poor vision, difficulty walking, chronic illness, depression, multiple medication use, memory problems, home safety hazards, and/or a history of falling (two to three times more likely to fall again).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following four actions to decrease the risk of falling:
- 1) Begin a regular exercise program. Exercise is the single most important thing older adults can do to stay active and independent. A regular exercise program provides stress relief and significantly improves a person’s overall strength, fitness, balance, flexibility, energy level, and sense of well-being. Strength training and exercises that challenge a person’s balance and coordination are important components of a fall prevention exercise routine. Exercise professionals, such as clinical exercise physiologists and physical therapists, can assist older adults by identifying appropriate exercises and instructing proper technique and progression.
- 2) Have your vision checked regularly. Older adults should have their vision and eyeglass prescriptions checked annually. Poor vision significantly increases their chance of falling.
- 3) Have your medications reviewed by your health care provider. As we age, medications can affect us in different ways. Some medications or a combination of medications may cause dizziness or fatigue, increasing the risk of falls. Older adults who take four or more prescription medications are three times more likely to suffer a fall.
- 4) Make your home safe. More than 50% of falls happen in or around the home. Many of these falls could be prevented by making simple home modifications. Assess the safety of your home by using a simple home safety checklist or have a professional home safety evaluation conducted by an occupational therapist. Remember, 40% of nursing home admissions are fall related.
Additional best practices include participating in an individual fall risk factor assessment and attending a local fall prevention program to learn more about your individual fall risk factors; develop strategies to decrease your risk and fear of falling; and obtain assistance in developing a comprehensive exercise routine that includes aerobic, strengthening, balance, and flexibility activities. Many communities have implemented fall prevention programs. Many of these programs have been highly effective, showing a mean decrease of 30% in falls. Contact your state’s Department of Health to locate the fall prevention program in your community or talk with your health care provider about your concerns about falling.
YOU can decrease your chances of falling and continue to live an active and independent lifestyle. Even if you feel that you are not at risk of falling, it is best to develop safe habits NOW.
Get active, stay active, continue to mature at home.