“How should I get off the floor if I fall?” my 77-year-old mother causally asked me. I knew better than to think this was a random question.
As it turns out, she had stumbled on a throw rug and fallen. The image of her on the ground and my 82-year-old father trying to help her up was very concerning – and it should be. Each year, one third of people over age 65 will fall, and one third of those people suffer a moderate to severe injury (Healthy People 2020). Unintentional injuries account for 85 percent of all injury deaths in adults over age 65, and 55 percent of those injuries are falls (CDC, Kramarow).
Tell Your Doctor if You Fall
A fall is defined as “unexpected event in which the participant comes to rest on the ground, floor or lower level.” That includes sitting suddenly on a chair, because if the chair wasn’t there, you might be on the floor. Tell your doctor if you have had a fall, even if you don’t think it was serious. Older adults (people over age 65) are at higher risk of falling after they have fallen once. Your doctor may look at your medications and blood pressure to see if changes in those might prevent a fall.
If You Fall…
Falls are serious business and need to be taken seriously. Should you fall, pause a moment before trying to get up. Falling is scary and you may need to collect yourself. See if you are seriously hurt. Call 911 if you have intense pain or are bleeding (especially from your head). If you think you are okay, you can try and get up. Maneuver yourself close to a sturdy chair. Hold the chair with your arms and move up to kneeling. Try and bring one leg up to boost yourself onto the chair. A step stool may provide an intermediate level between the floor and chair. Call 911 if you are unable to get up. They will come to help you, and it won’t be the first – or last – time they help someone who has fallen. If you need to go to the hospital, they will take you.
Many Falls are Preventable.
Trip hazards in your include throw rugs, clutter, wet spots on the floor, electrical cords, and pets – to name a few. Make sure your walkways are clear and you have good lighting. Install bath mats and grab bars in your bathroom. See an eye doctor for an exam once a year. Here is a good video from the National Council on Aging about Fall Prevention.
One of the best things you can do to prevent falls is to stay healthy! Exercise regularly in a manner that safely challenges your endurance, strength, flexibility and balance. You can call the Senior Helpline at 1-800-642-5119 for more information. The UVM Center on Aging also publishes a list of local exercise classes across Vermont.
Cathy Shearer, PT, is a physical therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.