By Nursing Quality Improvement Specialist Eileen Newell, RN
Did you know that most falls can be prevented? Yet each year in the U.S., 1 in 4 people aged 65 and older falls, and these falls often result in hip fractures, broken bones and even head injuries. In fact:
- Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries among older Americans.
- Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall.
- Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
- More than 2.8 million older adults are treated in ERs annually because of a fall, resulting in over 800,000 hospitalizations.
But, falling is not an inevitable part of aging. Through practical lifestyle adjustments, evidence-based programs and community partnerships, the number of falls among seniors can be reduced substantially.
The most common risk factors for accidental falls are physical risk factors, or changes in your body that increase your chances of falling; behavioral risk factors, or things we do/don’t do that raise the chances of falling; and environmental risk factors, typically hazards in our homes or encountered in the community.
We all have the power to reduce our fall risk and protect ourselves from a serious fall. Use these tips from Sarasota Memorial experts and the National Council on Aging to avoid accidental falls — especially if you're age 65 or older.
Keep Your Health in Check
- Talk to your doctor about any changes in your balance or hearing, and schedule regular screening tests to catch changes you may not notice.
- Have your vision checked annually by an eye doctor; poor vision increases the risk of falling.
- Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about any over-the-counter medication and prescription medication you take; try to avoid any that can make you dizzy, or at least be aware that they may make you dizzy.
- Attend a local, free balance screening event, like the one we'll be hosting in HealthConnection in November; click here for details.
Be Mindful of Your Fall Risk
- Wear sturdy shoes with thin non-slip soles.
- If ill or dehydrated, ask for help walking, getting up from a chair / bed or getting to the bathroom.
- Move more, sit less. The more you move — including stretching — the better your mobility function.
- Get some exercise; focus on building balance, strength and endurance.
- Go mall walking with a friend; it’s air conditioned, safe and you can reward yourself at the end. Or exercise in your home or your pool for lower-impact exercise.
- Walk around a neighborhood track or look for a local park that features exercise equipment. Several Sarasota County parks offer self-led exercise “trails” designed for varying skill levels, and the equipment is all free to use. Click here to find a park near you.
Reduce Fall Risks at Home
- Keep objects off the floor.
- Coil wires and cables next to walls, and tape them out of the way, if you can.
- Fix loose or broken steps/stairs.
- Install light switches that glow in the dark, and consider installing light switches at the top and bottom of stairs, if you don’t already have them.
- Remove any slippery carpets.
- Arrange items in your cabinets for easy access; put often-used items on the lower shelves.
- Invest in a steady step stool that has a bar to hold onto.
- Be sure the path from your bed to your bathroom is well-lit for night-time bathroom visits; use automatic night lights with brighter bulbs when possible.
- Install a grab bar in the shower/bathtub and near the toilet.
- Consider painting doorsills a different color to prevent tripping over them.
- Post emergency phone numbers (in large print) near or on your phone.
If you’d like to learn more about fall prevention, check out this great online resource: National Council on Aging website: ncoa.org.
Eileen Newell, RN, chairs the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Fall Prevention Sustainability Committee and collaborates with an interdisciplinary team to focus on fall prevention education and to provide falls-related data for analysis. A nursing quality improvement specialist focused on fall prevention, Eileen has many years’ experience investigating falls and developing processes to decrease fall risk in a hospital.