Written by SMH Injury Prevention Coordinator Susan Williams
Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury and the main cause of death and disability in our senior population.
More than 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments each year for injuries from falls, and more than 800,000 fall-related hospitalizations occur every year. The death rate from falling is on the rise, with a 30% increase reported from 2007 to 2016. At that rate, there will be 7 fall deaths every hour by 2030, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
But falls are preventable, not inevitable.
Safe, Smart, Step by Step.
"Safe. Smart. Step by Step." This is Florida’s overall strategy for a phased reopening of the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as recently outlined by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Our elderly population can follow this same strategy in their everyday lives to help decrease the risk of falls.
It is important to keep in contact with your provider. If you’re not comfortable with an in-person visit during this time, ask your provider whether virtual visits are an option. Many healthcare offices have made provisions for “telehealth” visits.
- Have regular checkups with your primary care provider. Discuss any falls or “stumbles” you may have had. Even if you haven’t fallen, but are fearful of falling, it is important to discuss.
- Review all your medications with your doctor or pharmacist. Remember to include over-the-counter medications, too. Some medications can cause balance issues, putting you at a greater risk for falls.
- Don’t forget yearly eye exams; cataracts are one of the main causes of visual disturbances, and they can usually be surgically removed.
- Have regular hearing checks.
- Post a list of emergency phone numbers in your home somewhere easily accessible.
- Also keep a list of medications in your home somewhere easily accessible for loved ones and first responders.
- If you have an advance directive, also have it accessible.
- Arrange with friends, family or the Senior Friendship Centers to make daily “phone” checks.
- Ask for help with household chores like grocery shopping or cooking.
Step by Step
Increasing your activity level can decrease your risk of falling, and the National Council on Aging recommends keeping active, even during this pandemic.
- Take walks. If walking indoors or with a group outdoors, remember to maintain your social distancing and follow CDC guidelines.
- Balance and movement classes are a plus. (Check out the free classes at the Senior Friendship Centers.)
- Get up and dance. Put on your favorite album and dance.
- Gardening can help with flexibility, muscle strength and balance.
Aging-related muscle weakness and decreased flexibility can lead to increased falls. The fear of falling can lead to decreased movement, which leads to muscle atrophy and decreased muscle strength putting the person at a greater risk of falling. The remedy? Keep moving.
Safer at Home
The home is the number one place where falls occur, and with many older Americans spending more time at home these days, it’s important to take the steps you can to reduce fall risks in your home.
- Rearrange your kitchen, so commonly used items are within reach.
- Remove throw rugs, as they are a tripping hazard.
- Wrap cords or wires and keep them off the floor.
- Make sure entry areas are well lit; change any burned-out light bulbs.
- Use automatic nightlights to keep hallways and pathways well-lit.
- Remove clutter from the floor.
- Install grab bars in bathrooms.
- Install handheld shower heads for easier use, even when sitting down.
- Repair any loose steps or stairs.
- Make stairs/steps or flooring elevation changes more visible by adding colored tape or paint.
- Wear proper-fitting, nonslip footwear.
Check out the National Council on Aging website for a host of useful information for older residents during this COVID-19 era.
Watch this humorous video, “Denying Gravity,” on fall prevention from volunteer acting troupe, SAGES (Senior Actors Guild & Education Services) Theater.
Click here for the latest COVID-19 information from Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and subscribe to our digital newsletter to get the latests news and tips from our medical experts sent to your inbox each month.
As the injury prevention coordinator for Sarasota Memorial's Trauma Services, Susan Williams, RN, BSN, serves as a critical link between the trauma team and the community it serves through education and outreach.