Vital Signs: Decrease Your Risk of Falls this Winter
What’s the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older adults in Vermont and the United States?
Did you guess falls? If so, you’re right.
Vermont was the third highest state in the nation in 2018 for number of adults age 65 and older who reported that they fell, at 33 percent, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
From causing moderate injuries like cuts and bruises to more serious injuries like head trauma and broken bones and even death, falling can be dangerous to anyone at any age, but it’s especially hazardous for those age 65 and older.
“When you’re two years old and you hit the ground, it’s a lot different than when you’re 90 and hit the ground,” said Karen Budde, AmeriCorps Senior Volunteer Coordinator and Wellness Coordinator with the NEK Council on Aging.
Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, according to the CDC, which can be very serious especially for people who are on certain medications like blood thinners. A fall can cause a broken arm, wrist or ankle, and more than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling. At least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures each year in the US; a hospital visit to treat an injury from a fall costs an average of more than $300,000!
Falls are also the leading cause of emergency department visits for older adults. More than 5,400 older Vermonters visited the emergency department for fall injuries, according to 2016 data from the Vermont Department of Health (VDH). Although one out of three older adults fall each year, less than half tell their doctor, which doubles the chance of falling again, according to VDH.
Even if a fall doesn’t result in an injury it can negatively impact a person’s life. Budde said after a person falls once and doesn’t sustain an injury they can become afraid of falling again, which could cause people to stop participating in social or physical activities. Being less physically active leads to weaker muscles, which increases chances of falling again, she said.
“If someone doesn’t get hurt when they fall they could become afraid of getting hurt if they fall again, which could spiral into not doing anything,” Budde said.
Budde said some risk factors that lead to falling can include:
- Getting up from a sitting or standing position too quickly;
- Hazards in the home, such as poor lighting, throw rugs, no grab bars or railings, or uneven stairs or flooring;
- Insecure footwear like flip-flops and slip-ons;
- Pets, which can sometimes get underfoot; and
- You have fallen or been injured in a fall recently.
Here’s some good news: falls are avoidable and there are a variety of ways you can help prevent falls from happening. One way, according to VDH, is to talk with your primary care provider about what you can do to reduce your risk of falling and about whether you should consider taking a Vitamin D supplement, which research shows is one way to prevent falls.
Another way is to check your risk of falling using the CDC’s self-assessment tool. Visit this website to take the self-assessment: https://bit.ly/CDCfallrisk. The CDC also provides a checklist for you to help make your home as safe as possible for yourself and others. You can find that checklist by visiting: https://bit.ly/CDCfallchecklist.
One more way you can help prevent falls is by improving your balance and strength. Budde said the NEK Council on Aging offers many different free wellness programs taught by certified leaders that focus on increasing activity and reducing factors that contribute to falls, including:
- Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program, a low-impact physical activity program to reduce pain and decrease stiffness.
- Fall Prevention Tai Chi, a variety of movements and forms that specifically work on fall prevention strategies like weight transference, mindfulness and balance.
- A Matter of Balance, a program that teaches individuals how to set realistic goals to increase activity, change their environment to reduce fall risk factors, and learn exercises to increase strength and balance.
- Walk With Ease, a program to teach individuals how to safely make physical activity part of their everyday lives.
- Modified Bone Builders, a combination of weight bearing, balance and stretching exercises designed to increase bone density and reduce effects of osteoporosis.
- Line Dancing, an aerobic exercise that also allows for social engagement.
Falls don’t have to become an expected part of your life as you age. Call your primary care provider today to discuss how to reduce your risk of falling. For more information about the NEK Council on Aging wellness programs, call (802) 751-0431.
We want to hear from you! Are there health topics or issues that you’d like to read about in an upcoming Vital Signs? Email us your suggestions at email@example.com, or mail them to NVRH, c/o Katie Bocchino, P.O. Box 905, St. Johnsbury, VT, 05819.