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Falls and older adults

Many people have a friend or relative who has fallen. The person might have slipped while walking or might have fallen after feeling dizzy upon standing up. Maybe you’ve fallen yourself. It might seem like falls and older adults just go together!

Risk increases with age

If you or an older person you know has fallen, you’re not alone. More than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year. The risk of falling — and fall-related problems — rises with age.

Falls lead to fractures, trauma

Each year, more than 1.6 million older U.S. adults go to emergency departments for fall-related injuries. Among older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths.

Fractures caused by falls can lead to hospital stays and disability. Fall-related fractures most often occur in a person’s hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand, or ankle.

Hip fractures are one of the most serious types of fall injury. They are a leading cause of injury and loss of independence, among older adults. Most healthy, independent older adults who are hospitalized for a broken hip are able to return home or live on their own after treatment and rehabilitation. Those who cannot return to independent living after such injuries usually had physical or mental disabilities before the injury. Many of them will need long-term care.

Fear of falling

Many older adults are afraid of falling. This fear becomes more common as people age, even among those who haven’t fallen. It may lead older people to avoid activities such as walking, shopping, or taking part in social activities.

If you’re worried about falling, talk with your doctor. He or she might refer you to a physical therapist. Physical therapy can help you improve your balance and walking, as well as helping you to build your  confidence with walking and standing. Getting rid of your fear of falling can help you to stay active, maintain your physical health, and prevent future falls.

If you fall, tell  your doctor

If you fall, be sure to discuss the fall with your doctor, even if you weren’t hurt, as there might be an underlying cause to the fall. For example, falls can be a sign of a new medical problem that needs attention, such as diabetes or changes in blood pressure (particularly drops in blood pressure on standing up). They can also be a sign of problems with your medications or eyesight. The good news is that many underlying causes of falls can be treated or corrected. After a fall, your doctor might test for any new medical issues. He or she might make changes in your medication or your eyewear prescription. Physical therapy, use of a walking aid, or other steps to help prevent future falls might also be suggested. These steps can also make you more confident in your walking and standing abilities.

Ways to prevent falling

Exercise to improve your balance and strengthen your muscles helps to prevent falls. Not wearing bifocal or multifocal glasses when you walk, especially on stairs, will make you less likely to fall. You can also make your home safer by removing loose rugs, adding handrails to stairs and hallways, and making sure you have adequate lighting in dark areas.

Falls are not an inevitable part of life, even as a person gets older. You can take action to prevent falls. Your doctor or other health care providers can help you decide what changes can be made to reduce your risk of falling.

Information courtesy of National Institutes of Health

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