Falls are the leading cause of injuries to older people in the United States, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Each year, one of every three people over 65 suffers a fall. That adds up to 11 million people who suffer falls. The number of falls and the severity of injury increase with age.
Treatment of injuries and complications associated with falls costs our nation more than $20.2 billion a year.
Some risk factors for falls, such as heredity and age, cannot be changed. But several risk factors can be reduced or eliminated. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has developed these guidelines to help you avoid falls.
- Get an annual physical and eye examination, particularly an evaluation of cardiac and blood pressure problems.
- Maintain a diet with adequate dietary calcium and vitamin D.
- Participate in an exercise program for agility, strength, balance and coordination.
- Eliminate all tripping hazards in your home and install grab bars, handrails and other safety devices.
- Wear properly fitting shoes with nonskid soles.
- Tie your shoelaces.
- Replace slippers that have stretched out of shape and are too loose.
- Use a long-handled shoehorn if you have trouble putting on your shoes.
- Avoid high heels and shoes with smooth, slick soles.
- Do not smoke.
- Avoid excessive alcohol intake.
- Keep an up-to-date list of all medications and provide it to all doctors with whom you consult.
- Check with your doctor(s) about the side effects of your medicines and over-the-counter drugs. Fatigue or confusion increases your risk of falling.
- Make sure all medications are clearly labeled and stored in a well-lit area according to instructions.
- Take medications on schedule with a full glass of water unless otherwise instructed.
- Never walk in your stocking feet.
- Women who cannot find wide enough athletic shoes for proper fit should shop in the men's shoe department because men's shoes are made wider.
What are the Medical Risk Factors for a Fall?
- Impaired musculoskeletal function, gait abnormality, osteoporosis
- Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), blood pressure fluctuation
- Depression, Alzheimer's disease and senility
- Arthritis, hip weakness or imbalance
- Neurologic conditions, stroke, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis
- Urinary and bladder dysfunction
- Vision or hearing loss
- Cancer that affects the bones
Falls can occur anytime, anyplace and to anyone while doing everyday activities, such as climbing stairs or getting out the bathtub. Research shows that simple safety modifications at home, where 60 percent of seniors suffer falls, can substantially cut the risk of falling. Protect yourself with these simple changes in furniture arrangement, housekeeping and lighting to prevent falls.
- Place a lamp, telephone and flashlight near your bed.
- Sleep on a bed that is easy to get into and out of.
- Replace satiny sheets and comforter with products made of non-slippery material, such as wool or cotton.
- Arrange clothes in your closet so that they are easy to reach.
- Install a nightlight along the route between your bedroom and the bathroom.
- Keep clutter off the bedroom floor.
- Arrange furniture so you have a clear pathway between rooms.
- Keep low-rise coffee tables, magazine racks, footrests and plants out of the path of traffic.
- Install easy-access light switches at entrances to rooms so you won't have to walk into a darkened room in order to turn on the light. Glow-in-the-dark switches may be helpful.
- Walk only in well-lighted rooms, stairs and halls.
- Do not store boxes near doorways or in hallways.
- Remove newspapers and all clutter from pathways.
- Keep electric, appliance and telephone cords out of walkways, but don't put cords under a rug.
- Don't run extension cords across pathways; rearrange furniture.
- Secure loose area rugs with double-faced tape, tacks or slip-resistant backing.
- Don't sit in a chair or on a sofa that is so low that it is difficult to stand up.
- Repair loose wooden floorboards right away.
- Remove doorsills higher than one-half inch.
- Remove throw rugs.
- Clean up immediately any liquids, grease, or food spilled on the floor.
- Store food, dishes and cooking equipment within easy reach.
- Don't stand on chairs or boxes to reach upper cabinets.
- Use nonskid floor wax.
- Place a slip-resistant rug adjacent to the bathtub for safe exit and entry.
- Mount a liquid soap dispenser on the bathtub/shower wall.
- Install grab bars on the bathroom walls.
- Keep a nightlight in the bathroom.
- Use a rubber mat or place nonskid adhesive textured strips on the tub.
- Replace glass shower enclosures with non-shattering material.
- Stabilize yourself on the toilet by using either a raised seat or a special toilet seat with armrests.
- Use a sturdy, plastic seat in the bathtub if you cannot lower yourself to the floor of the tub or if you are unsteady.
For more information on "Prevent Injuries America," call the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' public service telephone number: 1-800-824-BONES (2663) or log onto: www.aaos.org.
This information was prepared by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.