and I can’t get up”
For some, this may bring to mind a commercial that became a punchline for many in the late 80s. For others, especially older adults, this is a real-life concern and it’s no laughing matter. In fact, the leading cause of injuries to older Americans, both fatal and non-fatal, is falls. The statistics are quite staggering:
- Every 11 seconds an older adult goes to an emergency department due to a fall injury.2
- 25-30% of older adults experience a fall each year, yet less than half will report the fall to their doctor.7
- Older adults who have a fall are then twice as likely to fall again.7
- 20% of falls result in a serious injury such as broken bone or head injury.7
- Most fall injury hospitalizations are due to head injury or hip fracture.7
- Over 95% of hip fractures are caused by a fall, with sideways falls being the most common.7
- Falls are THE most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).7
- Annual medical costs for fall injuries exceeded $50 billion in 2015.7
- 99% of fall related medical costs are from non-fatal falls.3
- People 85 years of age or older have the highest risk of falling as well as comprising the fastest-growing segment of the older population.3
Given the prevalence of falls and the negative health outcomes, prevention is vital! Additionally, the financial burden, will only increase as the population ages, making it a fiscal necessity.
Why Do People Fall?
As we age, the human body naturally begins to deteriorate. The systems responsible for balance and standing upright, gradually decline. Nerve pathways from the brain to muscles may weaken, slowing reaction time. This makes it more difficult to make those reflexive actions to dodge obstacles or adapt to an uneven surface. Normal fading of muscle strength and joint flexibility affects the ability to stand, walk, sit down in and get up from chairs, etc. In addition to skeletal muscles weakening, the eye muscles also decline, causing poor eyesight, which further impedes the body’s ability to navigate. Some medications can leave a person feeling dizzy or otherwise affect balance.
Balancing Between Prevention and Fear
It’s no wonder that older adults can become nervous about falling. However, it is important to not allow fear to be the ruling factor. As Charlotte Yeh, M.D., AARP’s chief medical officer, puts it: “Too many people develop a fear of falling — and that can make you stop moving. It’s important to keep using the brain-body connection.”2 It’s important to find the balance between throwing caution to the wind and not taking any preventative steps and becoming so fearful of a fall, that you stop moving. Motion helps the body remain agile and can actually help prevent falls. Remaining active is critical to the human body maintaining balance.
How Do We Prevent Falls?
Address Physical Health Matters – With multiple physical issues contributing to fall risk, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Be upfront about symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue or drowsiness that can affect your balance. These may be medication side-effects where a dosage needs to be adjusted. They can also be symptoms of other problems that need to be addressed. Have regular hearing, vision and spinal posture screenings as each of these can negatively affect your balance.
Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones, making them less resistant to stress and increasing the risk of fracture. It can be caused by hormonal changes, calcium and vitamin D deficiencies as well as decreased physical activity. Talk to your doctor about tests to evaluate your risk for osteoporosis and treatment if needed.5
Regardless of which cause(s) lead to a fall, about half of falls, occur at home.4 Often, it is in doing everyday activities, such as reaching for something, climbing on a small step stool or going down stairs. Therefore, taking preventative steps in the home is important. Here are a few tips compiled from Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP), American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), American Chiropractic Association (ACA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Sidewalks and outside stairs – Keep them free of debris such as shoes and leaves. Take steps in inclement weather to keep them safe, i.e. shoveling snow, utilizing sand, cat litter or salt to prevent freezing.
- Shoes – Wear comfortable, supportive shoes around the house. Ensure that any laces or straps do not hang down where they can be a trip hazard.
- Maintain a tidy home – Keep your home, especially the most used rooms, clean and clutter free. Keep cords out of walkways and avoid using rugs that can slip or be a trip hazard.
- Utilize support devices – Hold the rail when going up or down stairs. Reach out to a wall when you are walking down your hallway at home. Use rails to help maintain balance in the bathroom. Get a cane or walker or even a wheelchair to help you get around. Independent people often try to avoid these things, but they promote balance and safety. Using these tools can help you remain active for longer.
- Light up your world – Be sure you have plenty of light to see where you are going. Lamp shades and light fixtures help control glare. Light switches should be easy to get to. Use nightlights for areas that may be dimmer.
- Exercise – Work on strength training and resistance training. Talk to your chiropractor about what types of exercise you can do to build muscle. Join a water aerobics class. Take a stroll around the block or join a walking club. Try simple body weight exercises such as Pilates, Tai Chi and yoga. These can all help strengthen muscles and improve balance. Whatever you do, just keep moving!
Talk to your doctor of chiropractic at your next visit about preventative steps you should take to keep moving. In addition to helping you maintain a healthy musculoskeletal system, your chiropractor can make suggestions for exercise and nutritional changes that could benefit you. They can also refer to other health care specialties as needed for your personal health condition.
Don’t let a fall get you down! Your golden years are a time to enjoy the things you may not have had time for earlier in life. Keep moving and make them a gold medal experience.
- Alexis, L “Simple Tips for Fall Prevention” https://f4cp.social5.net/post/simple-tips-for-fall-prevention/ January 11, 2021
- George, Catherine Alicia “Striking a Balance to Avoid Dangerous Falls” https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/info-2019/tips-preventing-falls.html?utm_source=s5_mobile_site&utm_medium=mobile&utm_campaign=s5_85907+ December 2, 2019
- Allen, Kent “Older Adult Falls Cost About $50 Billion a Year” https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2018/medicare-fall-costs-fd.html March 13, 2018
- AARP “Simple Steps to Prevent Falls” https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/home-care/info-2017/prevent-falls.html?intcmp=AE-HEA-CND-EOA1-FD May 1, 2012
- American Chiropractic Association “Fall Prevention” https://handsdownbetter.org/fall-prevention/ December 07, 2020
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Keep on Your Feet—Preventing Older Adult Falls” Keep on Your Feet—Preventing Older Adult Falls | CDC
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Important Facts about Falls” Important Facts about Falls | Home and Recreational Safety | CDC Injury Center