Fall is a wonderful season here in Massachusetts, when thoughts typically turn to football, apple picking, and enjoying the cooler weather. But it’s also a good time to be aware of fall risks and how they can be reduced.
Falls are not a normal part of aging, but they are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. In fact, falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Worse, the chances of suffering a second fall double after the first one.
The good news is that many falls are preventable, and organizations like NCOA and Adult Family Care are promoting measures that can help, leading up to Falls Prevention Awareness Day in September.
The Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention advises that most falls are caused by a combination of following risk factors:
• Lower body weakness
• Vitamin D deficiency
• Difficulties with walking and balance
• Use of medicines
• Vision problems
• Foot pain
• In-home hazards
Here are some of the best ways to prevent a fall:
Stay Strong It’s never too late to build stability, strength, and flexibility. Elder service agencies and senior centers often offer special classes geared toward helping to reduce fall risk. In some cases, elder services agencies also offer home exercise programs to help those who otherwise would have difficulty participating.
Talk to your doctor This can be helpful in so many ways. Your doctor will be able to assess for health-related risk factors and can review medications for side effects, such as dizziness or drowsiness. And don’t be afraid to mention if you have had a fall or are afraid of falling.
Check vision and hearing. Don’t skip those annual appointments! Your ability to hear and see can greatly impact your balance and your ability to avoid obstacles.
Keep your home safe Evaluate your home for fall hazards. Remove obstacles, such as rugs or clutter that might cause you to trip. Make sure areas like entryways are well-lit. Install grab bars where needed, such as in the bathroom or near the front door. You might also consider consulting an occupational therapist to assess your home and make recommendations.
Talk to Family This great advice was offered by the NCOA as part of their awareness campaign, and I’ll repeat it here: Enlist family support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Falls are not just a seniors’ issue.
To learn more, I would highly recommend visiting the fall prevention section of the NCOA website. Your local elder services agency can also be very helpful for connecting with local resources.
National Falls Prevention Awareness Day is Sept. 23 this year. While it’s nice to have a day dedicated to the cause, the goal is ongoing change—helping people recognize these risk factors and what they can do to help.
There is no way to eliminate all risk of falling, but it’s the sort of thing where some knowledge and a proactive approach can have a huge impact. If you have concerns about falls, I would urge you to learn more and take action. The difference can literally be life changing.
Jeanne Leyden is a registered nurse and director of Adult Family Care, a non-profit program at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services that provides training and compensation for family caregivers across the Greater Boston, North Shore, and Merrimack Valley areas. For more information, visit adultfamilycare.org or call 617-628-2601.