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Do you have a fall-prevention plan?

Created date

May 10th, 2018

Do you have a fall-prevention plan?

Preventing a fall is fundamentally important to maintaining our health, well-being, and independence. Despite increasing awareness, falls remain the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in people 65 years of age and up. About one-third of seniors fall each year, and one-third of those sustain an injury that requires medical treatment. In 2014, there were over 2.8 million emergency room visits for fall-related injuries alone.

These numbers are dramatic, but the great news is there is much you can do to prevent a fall. A recent comprehensive review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association about interventions to prevent falls revealed that there are several effective evidence-based strategies that can successfully reduce your risk for falling. One important recommendation of the study is that your fall-prevention plan should be tailored to your specific situation and needs.

The basics

Your approach should include four basic elements: a medical assessment, medication management, exercise, and home safety. Unfortunately, less than 40% of physicians ask about falls, so please bring it up at your next visit and be honest about whether or not you have fallen. The doctor’s role can be crucial and recommendations may include vision assessment and treatment, osteoporosis management, physical therapy, strategies to improve balance and strength, or the need for an assistive device.

The doctor will review your medications since common side effects, including dizziness, drowsiness, or muscle weakness, can reduce your coordination and balance. You may need medication changes or adjustments to reduce these side effects. Vitamin D and calcium may also be necessary to improve bone and muscle health.

Exercise has been shown in a number of studies to prevent falls, but it is essential to weigh the pros and cons of each type of exercise and individualize your program to your personal needs. What prevents falls for some might increase risk for others. A common sense approach wins the day and your medical providers will help with direction.

There are also great resources and opportunities on the Web and in the community to find what works best for you. The Centers for Disease Control site STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries) is a great place to start (cdc.gov/steadi/patient.html). The National Council on Aging website can be helpful, and home and community-based opportunities like the Otago Exercise Program, Silver Sneakers, and tai chi classes are often available and fun to participate in.

Finally, home and environmental safety play an important role in fall prevention and have been shown to be effective. Make your home safer by reducing trip hazards, adding grab bars and railings, and improving lighting. Cover porch steps with a gritty, weather-proof paint and install handrails on both sides if needed. If you’re not sure what to do, your doctor can have an occupational therapist come to your home and recommend modifications and help you get started.

When you’re walking outside, wear low-heeled shoes with rubber soles for more solid footing and be careful on windy days, especially getting in and out of your car. Consider wearing hip protectors or hip pads for added protection should you fall. If sidewalks look slippery, walk in the grass.

Please don’t wait for a fall to happen. Falls and related injuries can be prevented and you may even find a fun activity in the process!

In good health,

Dr. Narrett

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