Observed annually in June, National Safety Month focuses on reducing leading causes of injury and death in our homes and communities. This year’s safety campaign is focused on Hazard Recognition, Slips, Trips and Falls, Fatigue and Impairment; all very important topics. For this month’s column I’d like to focus on slips, trips and falls.
Each year, millions of people 65 and older fall. In fact, more than 1 out of 4 older people falls each year. Falling once doubles your chances that you will fall again.
What Can Happen After a Fall? Many falls do not cause injuries. But 1 out of 5 falls does cause a serious injury such as a broken bone or a head injury. These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities, or live on their own. An older person who falls and hits their head should see their doctor right away to make sure they don’t have a brain injury.
Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities resulting in isolation. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling.
What Conditions Make You More Likely to Fall? Research has identified many conditions that contribute to falling. These are called risk factors. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls. They include: lower body weakness, foot pain, vision problems, difficulties with walking or balance, and some medications. There are also environmental hazards to be aware of such as broken or even steps, throw rugs, extension cords across walking areas, and clutter. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling.
What Can You Do to Prevent Falls? Get a falls risk assessment. SeniorsPlus and other community agencies offer these. Do exercises that make your legs stronger and improve your balance. Sign up for a Tai Chi or Matter of Balance class. Locations can be found at healthylivingforme.org. You can also call SeniorsPlus at 1-800-427-1241. You should also have your eyes checked once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses if needed. Get rid of things you could trip over, add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet, put railings on both sides of stairs, and make sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs.
Holly Zielinski is the Chief Operating Officer for SeniorsPlus.