Falls can be dangerous at any age, but they can be downright deadly for senior citizens. According to a study from the American Academy of Family Physicians, falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency department visits in patients age 65 and older.
Injury can be just the beginning of an elderly patient’s trouble after a fall. About one-third of all Americans over age 65 fall each year, resulting in about 20,000 deaths according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While most falls don’t end in death or result in a serious injury, the psychological impact of a fall (or a near fall) can frighten an older adult into restricting his or her activities. This, in turn, can make him or her more frail and likely to fall.
All great reasons to prevent falls from happening in the first place, right?
Researchers at The Cochrane Library recently reviewed a series of 159 studies (with a total of 79,193 participants) related to fall prevention. They concluded:
- Exercise programs that encourage balance and strength training are effective in reducing senior falls and fractures.
- Vitamin D supplements do not reduce falls overall, but may be helpful if a particular individual has a low level of vitamin D before treatment.
- Interventions to improve home safety are also effective, particularly when carried out by an occupational therapist.
The CDC offers the following advice to reduce the risk of falls in your home:
- Floors: Check for furniture, papers, books, or wires that obstruct your normal walking routes. Keeping the floor clear is a great first step to reducing fall hazards.
- Stairs and Steps: Once again, you’ll want to keep this area clear of clutter. If you don’t have a light over the stairway, have one installed and make sure there are switches at the bottom and top of the stairs.
- Kitchen: Do you often find yourself dragging out a step stool to reach items stored high on your shelves? Move those items down so they’re easier to reach. While you’re at it, make sure your step stool is steady and has a handle to grab if you start to lose your balance.
- Bathrooms: Is your shower or tub floor slippery? Put down a rubber mat or strips to improve your grip. Also consider installing handrails so you can get in and out safely.
- Bedrooms: When you wake up at night, is your route to the restroom at least partially lit? Make sure you have a light you can reach from the bed (and turn it on if you’re getting up).
Get the full CDC fall prevention checklist (PDF) and review it with your loved ones. A few minor changes now could literally save a life later.