03. Learn How to Prevent Falls

Age 65 and Better

Adults hiking By Dawn Weening, RN, CCM

Did you know falls are the leading cause of injury and death for senior citizens? Falls are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions. Preventing a fall could be the difference between aging at home and aging in a facility, or even life and death.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, 2.2 million people were treated in emergency departments from falls in the United States in 2009, and 19,700 of those people died. The data also shows that 1 out of 3 adults age 65 and up fall each year, but less than half addressed the incident with their health care provider.  At Fletcher Allen, in the 65 years of age and older population, more than 90 percent of those admitted with injuries are injured from falling. The majority of these patients require a stay at a rehabilitation facility due to their injuries.

Causes

Factors that may lead to a fall are both internal and external. Internal factors include decreased hearing and vision and a decrease in balance, as well as lack of sleep, chronic health conditions, mental status and multiple medications.

External factors are mainly factors we can modify and control. These factors include stairs, clutter, loose rugs, poor lighting and rushing.

Prevention

In order to decrease your risk of falling:

  • Have your vision and hearing checked regularly.
  • Review your medications with your physician at every visit.
  • Get 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. This exercise should include aerobic as well as balance and flexibility exercises.
  • Become a good self-manager of your chronic disease. This includes managing the symptoms, medications and day-to-day things you need to keep your chronic disease under control. For diabetes, it means keeping your blood sugars under control. For congestive heart failure, it means sticking to your low sodium diet and keeping track of any fluid retention. For asthma, it means making sure you are staying away from, or minimizing your exposure to, the triggers of your asthma.
  • If you don’t sleep well, talk to your doctor.
  • Keep your walking paths in your home clear of clutter.
  • Make sure stairs are well lit with stair rails on both sides and in good repair.
  • Keep loose rugs out of your home or tape them down to the floor.
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom for safety.
  • Do not rush or hurry. Many people report falling after rushing to answer the phone or answering the front door.

Dawn Weening, RN, CCM is the former coordinator of Adult Outreach and Education at Fletcher Allen. She recently joined the Vermont Chronic Care Initiative.

View the entire Winter 2012 newsletter.
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