Intermountain Healthcare

Staying Safe: Falls for Seniors Can be Devastating, but Most are Preventable

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As the weather cools in the fall and with winter right around the corner it’s a great time to think about a different kind of fall – actually preventing older adults from falling down and getting hurt- either in their home or unfamiliar and slippery outside locations.

Every 13 seconds, an older adult is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury.  That is why every September on the first day of fall, Falls Prevention Awareness Week, a national health campaign is observed to increase awareness around falls health and injury prevention.

According to the National Council on Aging, one in four Americans over the age of 65 falls each year and every 20 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.

In Utah, falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injury-related hospital admissions among those age 65+.

Also, more than half of Utahns aged 65+ who were hospitalized due to a fall were discharged to residential care or a rehabilitation facility.

“Falls can cause hip fractures or head trauma, both of which can increase the risk of early disability or death for older adults,” said Michael Long, MD, medical director of trauma outreach and injury prevention at Intermountain Medical Center “The good news is that many falls among older adults can be prevented with some planning and safety in mind.”

Dr. Long offers these tips to help keep senior adults on their feet and moving forward safely:

  • Exercise regularly. Get up and move! Do exercises that improve your balance and make your legs stronger. Building muscles and keeping ligaments lean and strong helps you walk more confidently.
  • Keep your home safe. Remove tripping hazards, such as rugs and toys, increase lighting in low-light areas, make stairs safe by installing handrails and non-slip surfaces and removing obstacles, and install grab bars in areas of uneven flooring and the bathroom. And be careful around small pets, one of the most common trip hazards for senior adults.
  • Talk to your family members or others close to you. Ask them to help you take simple steps to stay safe. An unsafe home increases the risk for falling for everyone, from the very young to the very old.
  • Take extra precautions in unfamiliar environments. When visiting family members make sure their homes are also safe, by removing tripping hazards and adding increased lighting.
  • Get your vision and hearing checked every year and update your eyeglasses. Your eyes and ears are key to keeping you on your feet.
  • It’s safest to have uniform lighting in a room. Add lighting to dark areas. Hang lightweight curtains or shades to reduce glare.
  • Paint a contrasting color on the top edge of all steps so you can see the stairs better. For example, use a light color paint on dark wood.
  • Regularly review your medications with your doctor and/or pharmacist. This includes medications prescribed by all of your healthcare providers and any over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, or herbs you are using. Some combinations may cause side effects that increase dizziness or your risk of falling. Take your medications only as prescribed.
  • Ask your doctor to assess your risk for falling. And make sure to share your history of any recent falls.
  • Get up slowly after you sit or lie down. Wear shoes both inside and outside the house. Avoid going barefoot or just wearing socks or slippers.
  • Take a Stepping On prevention course, Strength and Balance class or Tai Chi for Arthritis /Health class. The Utah Department of Health is offering free virtual classes. Tai Chi for Arthritis/Health classes incorporates exercises that improve muscular strength, flexibility and fitness. The Tai Chi for Arthritis/Health program also focuses on weight transference, which improves balance and prevents falls. You can sign up at https://livingwell.utah.gov.

The Utah Falls Prevention Alliance has even more information here.

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