Falls are the leading cause of injury in Americans age 65 and over, and one in four older Americans will be injured in a fall this year.
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall. Every 19 minutes, an older adult passes away because of a fall.
These grim numbers from the National Council of Aging and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show why falls are such a concern to retirees.
Falls not only can result in injury or death, but they can also lead to a decline in retirees’ healthy, active lifestyle, even if they are not seriously injured in a fall.
Here are some factors that can lead to a fall:
- Loss of balance and gait. Many people will lose some coordination, flexibility and balance as they age, especially if they are less active, which increases the likelihood of falling.
- Medications. Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause side effects such as dizziness, dehydration or other drug interactions that can lead to falls.
- Chronic health conditions. Health conditions such as diabetes, stroke or arthritis can lead to falls because of lower activity levels or medications.
- Vision. In many older people’s eyes, less light reaches the retina, making contrasting edges, tripping hazards, and obstacles harder to see.
- Home environment. Factors in the home, such as furniture placement and carpeting, can lead to falls.
Luckily, falls are preventable. Here are some steps that you can take to prevent a fall, with tips from the Mayo Clinic, National Council of Aging and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Review your medications. If you are having difficulty keeping track of your medicines or dealing with side effects, discuss your concerns with your doctor and pharmacist. Experts recommend regularly reviewing your medications.
- See your doctor. Have your doctor evaluate you for health conditions that may place you at risk for falls.
- Use assistive devices. In addition to canes and walkers, these can include hand rails for both sides of stairways, non-slip treads for steps, raised toilet seats and grab bars for the shower or tub.
- Remove potential home hazards. In addition to lighting, make sure your home is safer by removing clutter from walkways, including boxes and cords; moving small tables and stands from high-traffic areas; repairing (or removing) loose carpeting and floorboards; storing all food, dishes and other frequently-used items within easy reach and using non-slip mats or bath seats in bathtubs and showers.
- Get your vision checked. If you wear glasses, ensure your prescription is current and addresses your vision correction needs.
- Be physically active. Mild physical activity such as walking or water workouts will improve your strength, balance and flexibility — and reduce your risk for falls. Check with your doctor before starting any physical activity program.