Written by James Fleming
Have you heard? A new government study has found that deaths in adults 65+ from falls rose an astonishing 31% in the past decade, jumping from 18,000 deaths in 2007 to 30,000 in 2016. As more and more adults age into the 65+ bracket in the next decade or so, that number could continue to rise dramatically.
Risk Factors for Falling
Don’t think you are at risk for falling? The National Council on Aging reports that a whopping 1 in 4 adults over 65 reports falling at least once a year. Even a minor fall can cascade into serious injuries like hip fractures and other broken bones, sprains, head trauma, and lacerations. From there, a hospital stay may expose you to infectious agents (like hospital-acquired pneumonia) or your mobility can become impaired to a point that affects your activity and independence levels.
Knowing additional factors that put you at risk can help you take early action to protect yourself from falling. Important risk factors for falling include:
- Age and sex – adults 85 and over are the fastest-growing demographic and the most at risk of falling. Females also typically fall more than men.
- Chronic illness – seniors with chronic conditions like diabetes, stroke, arthritis, Parkinson’s, and dementia develop symptoms that can affect coordination, mobility, and so forth which contribute to falling.
- Balance problems – balance problems, dizziness, faintness, and mobility issues can all make it harder to catch and correct yourself when you start to stumble or fall.
- Fluctuating blood pressure – drastic drops in blood pressure can lead to faintness and dizziness as can some medicine side effects.
- Hearing or vision impairment – a decline in how well you see and hear can impact the sensory input your brain needs to keep you stable and coordinated.
- History of previous falling – research shows simply that people who have experienced falls in the past are more likely to have another one.
Fall Prevention Strategies
If you want to live out your retirement in the fun, carefree way you always dreamed, being smart about preventing falls is a must! Keep these help fall prevention tips in mind:
Upgrade Your Home
Simple home modifications can go a long way towards guarding against dangerous falls. Experts recommend installing grab bars in the shower and railings around staircases, ramps, and porches. You should also look at making sure lighting is accessible and consistent between rooms in your home, and that large pieces of furniture and general clutter are moved out of the way to make room for wide, clear pathways throughout the house.
In addition to routine cardio workouts, seniors should partake in strength-training and balance exercises. Practices like yoga and tai chi incorporate balance, gentle stretching, weight-bearing poses, and deep breathing and can be easily tailored to all types of mobility levels. And strength-training for older adults is possible (and dare say it, fun) with lightweight dumbbells, resistance bands, and medicine balls.
Talk to Your Doctor
Do you take multiple medications a day? Some studies have shown that this can increase your risk of falling. For example, if you have multiple providers writing prescriptions for you, like a specialist and a primary care doctor, lack of oversight can result in drug interactions or complicated medicine schedules that contribute to bad side effects which increase your risk of falling. Start a dialogue with your doctors about all the medicines you are on and don’t forget to get your hearing and vision checked regularly.
Did you know that simply having a fear of falling can increase your risk of falling? Researchers believe that anxiety about falling can compromise the attention an older adult should pay towards remaining stable and can lead to stiffening behaviors which throw them off balance, specifically during dynamic, high-functioning movements. If you have a fear of falling, talk to your family and care network about better equipping the home to prevent falls and seek counseling as necessary to help deal with your anxiety.
Check Your Diet
Are you filling up with bone and muscle-building foods throughout the day? Are you properly hydrated? Not getting enough proper nutrition and water throughout the day can lead to symptoms like fatigue, lightheadedness, brain fog, and even disorientation that all contribute to falling. In the long-term as well, not eating a diet tailored to helping you both get enough calories for energy as well as consume nutrients vital to keeping your bones and muscles strong, like protein and calcium, can compound muscle weakness and increase the risk of fracture should a fall happen.