by Nicole Long, MSW, LICSW
Did you know? Every year, one in four older adults in the U.S. has a fall, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Falls pose a significant risk for older adults as they can potentially reduce overall mobility as well as one’s ability to maintain independence.
Understanding the factors that can lead to falling and learning how to prevent falls can help reduce risk. Chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, dementia and Parkinson’s, as well as medications that may cause dizziness or drowsiness, are factors that can increase fall risk. Other factors include vision or vestibular changes and a new or worsening health condition.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in those who are 65 and older.
Below are a few myths about falls:
Myth: I’m unsteady and worried that physical activities will increase my risk of falling. One of the best preventative measures is exercise as it improves balance and increases strength and flexibility. There are countless exercise programs designed specifically for older adults which are often offered at senior centers or fitness centers. Not sure which type of exercise would be appropriate for you? Talk with your health care provider about starting an exercise program that will help you build strength and improve your balance to reduce your fall risk.
Myth: My eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be, but I won’t fall as long as I walk slowly and pay attention to where I’m going. Older adults with visual impairments are twice as likely to fall.
Age-related vision changes can make it more difficult to see obstacles in the way. Have your vision checked annually and keep your eyeglasses up-to-date. Also, be aware of “trip hazards” in the home. For example, throw rugs can cause you to slip and fall. Small furniture such as footstools, shoes and other items left on the floor can cause you to trip. Poor lighting can be a hazard. Make your living environment safer by putting items away and improving lighting.
Myth: My doctor advised me to use a cane, but I don’t think it’s really necessary. Being advised to use a walking aid means you may already have an increased risk of falling. And, unfortunately, those who have fallen once are more likely to fall again. Did you know that according to the CDC, over 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling? But falls can be prevented. Older adults who use a cane or a walker to help them get around (and use them safely as instructed by their physician or physical therapist) are better able to maintain their mobility and independence.
Myth: I only take one medication, so I’m not really at risk of falling.
Some prescriptions, as well as over-the-counter medications, may cause side effects such as lightheadedness or drowsiness. Some medications may lead to balance issues. Know that any medication may increase your risk of falling. It is very important to discuss any medications and concerns with your physician.
Falls are not a normal sign of aging. Falls Prevention Awareness Week, the national campaign to raise awareness about preventing falls and reducing fall risk, is September 18-24, 2022. Attend workshops or events to learn more about the steps you can take to help ensure that you and your family members, friends, and neighbors know how to prevent falls.
Falls Prevention Workshops
Are you an older adult looking for local fall prevention programs or exercise programs? Check with your senior center or Council on Aging. Old Colony Elder Services (OCES), the nonprofit agency serving older adults and individuals with disabilities throughout Plymouth County and surrounding towns, operates a Healthy Living Program with “A Matter of Balance” workshops. A Matter of Balance is an evidence-based program that emphasizes practical strategies to control, manage and avoid falls.
For more information about fall prevention or to learn more about A Matter of Balance workshops, contact OCES’ Healthy Living Program at 508-584-1561 or visit www.ocesma.org.