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Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital

 

Prevent Falls

Learn how to prevent falls

Learn how to prevent falls

By the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program and Mary Gaub, Physical Therapist/Geriatric Clinical
Friday, May 5, 2017

The CDC reports that an adult 65 years of age or older falls every second of every day in the United States. Every 12 seconds, one of these individuals is admitted to an emergency department. Every day, 74 of those admitted for a fall will die. Don’t be a statistic. Falls are not a normal part of aging. If you have experienced a fall, you need to talk to your health care provider. Falls contribute to injuries like broken hips or traumatic brain injuries and are the leading cause of injuries among older Americans.

Falls can change your life. Fear of falling can lead to decreased activity and social experiences. This fear can diminish quality of life and further increase fall risk. Falls can be the reason an older adult can no longer be independent or live on their own.

The good news is that most falls are preventable. There are many contributing factors that can be modified to reduce your risk. Here are common factors that can lead to a fall from the National Council on Aging:

  • Balance and gait: As we age, most of us lose some coordination, flexibility and balance-primarily through inactivity, making it easier to fall.
  • Vision: In the aging eye, less light reaches the retina-making contrasting edges, tripping hazards and obstacles harder to see.
  • Medications: Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall.
  • Environment: Most seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and have never thought about simple modifications that might keep it safer.
  • Chronic conditions: More than 90% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, stroke or arthritis. Often, these increase the risk of falling, because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or multiple medications.

Stay safe with these tips from the NCOA

  • Stay Active - Find a good balance or exercise program. Look to build balance, strength and flexibility. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for referrals. Find a program you like and take a friend. You may need to talk to your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist for an evaluation and exercise recommendations.
  • Talk to your health care provider. Ask for an assessment of your risk of falling. Share your history of recent falls.
  • Regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist. Make sure side effects aren’t increasing your risk of falling. Take medications only as prescribed.
  • Get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eyeglasses. Your eyes and ears are key to keeping you on your feet.
  • Keep your home safe. Remove tripping hazards, increase lighting, make stairs safe, and install grab bars in key areas.
  • Talk to your family members. Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Falls are not just an issue for seniors.

 How are you doing? Below is a test of leg strength and endurance from the CDC’s STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries) program.

 The 30-Second Chair Stand Test

  • Equipment – a stopwatch and a chair with a straight back, without arm rests, seat 17inches high.
  • Instructions:
    • Sit in the middle of the chair
    • Place your hands on the opposite shoulder crossed at the wrists.
    • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
    • Keep your back flat and your arms against your chest.
    • On “GO,” rise to a full standing position and then sit back down.
    • Repeat for 30 seconds.
  • Scoring: Count the number of times you can stand from the chair in 30 seconds. If you are half way up at 30 seconds, then the last one still counts. If you cannot stand up from a chair without using your arms, the score is 0.
  • The average score for a person between 65-69 years old is 12 for men and 11 for women. You can see scores for men and women between 60-94 years old on the STEADI website.

 Talk to your doctor or health care provider if you are having difficulty with staying active and especially if you have had a fall or near fall. Most falls can be prevented and there are steps you can take to diminish your risk for falling.

 References:

www.cdc.gov/features/falls-prevention-day/index.html 

www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/falls-prevention 

STEADI Materials for Health Care Providers – www.cdc.gov/steadi.html 

Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist – www.cdc.gov/steadi/pdf/check_for_safety_brochure-a.pdf

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