One older American falls every second of every day.
This was reported in a 2016 study publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making falls the number one cause of injury and injury-related death for older Americans. Bad falls that cause serious injury can occur out of the blue, but for most people, bad falls happen when minor falls go unaddressed.
What is a minor fall?
Minor falls, or falls that do not cause serious injury, can be embarrassing and frustrating. They can also be a sign that something else is going on.
Some of the most common causes of falls are as follows:
- Feeling dizzy when moving
- A worsening sense of balance or a steady increase in weakness
- Tripping from items on the floor, poorly fitted shoes, or uneven ground
- Decreased sensation in the feet
- Slipping on loose rugs or slippery surfaces
- Worsening vision or poor lighting
- Illnesses and dehydration
- The adverse effects of medications or combinations of medications
- Pure accidents and bad luck
What is a bad fall?
When a bad fall occurs, it is often difficult for a person to get up or call for help. This can be because one or both of the hips are broken, a back or neck injury has occurred, or there is an area of bleeding on the brain making it difficult to speak.
The pain caused from a bad fall can make it difficult to think clearly and communicate well. Pain can also prevents movement towards a telephone. If a person cannot call for help, it may take a while for someone to come by, and the time down can result in hypothermia, muscle breakdown causing kidney damage, and many other problems.
What happens after a fall?
After any fall, it is important to visit your primary care provider, even if you did not notice an injury from the fall. Reviewing all of the possible factors that led to the fall can help prevent further falls.
For some folks on blood thinners (anticoagulants), it is also important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of the blood thinning medication when the possibility of a fall, head injury, and head bleed become a real possibility.
How do I prevent falls?
There are many small adjustments in daily life that can help prevent falls from occurring.
Some of the most straightforward are to:
- Remove area rugs that wrinkle or slide
- Clear walkways of clutter
- Remove electrical cords from walking areas
- Ensure your home has adequate lighting (including a nightlight)
- Wear properly fitting shoes and eyeglasses.
Changes that your physician may consider include:
- Adjustments in your medications
- A referral to physical therapy for balance, dizziness, or strength training
- A prescription of an assistance device for walking
Small measures to reduce falls can make a significant difference in safety and confidence on your feet. While accidents will happen, and anyone call fall from bad luck, preventing regular falls is an important part of maintaining independence and living a longer life.
Learn more about the UVM Medical Center’s Falls Prevention Clinic. We provide comprehensive fall risk assessment and treatment for people who have fallen or at risk for falling.
Elizabeth Landell, MD, is a family medicine resident at the University of Vermont Milton Family Practice.