As more Americans grow older, falling accidents will likely increase. According to the CDC, fall-related deaths for people over 65 have gone up 30 percent between 2007 and 2016. It’s now estimated that one in four senior citizens will fall each year. Although not all these falls result in serious injury, at least three million patients go to the ER annually. The CDC also estimates that most hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries are related to falling incidents.
Even if a patient doesn’t get injured in a fall, these accidents can have a significant psychological impact. Adults may start restricting their social lives, which can exacerbate conditions like depression or anxiety. Also, the less active adults are, the less likely they will have the strength to prevent another fall.
Although the fear of falling is understandable, adults should know there are many evidence-based preventative strategies. Putting these strategies into place can significantly help adults continue walking confidently.
Science-Backed Strategies To Prevent Falling Accidents
Don’t Neglect A Doctor Check-Up
Recent studies suggest roughly half of adults who experience a fall don’t report it to their doctor. Scientists also note women are far more likely than men to report a fall at a physical exam.
While adults may feel embarrassed to discuss their first fall, they must meet with a trusted physician ASAP. Medical experts at Mayo Clinic recommend scheduling a doctor appointment the moment anyone feels “shaky.”
Weakening balance and coordination could be related to old age, but they may signal other underlying conditions. For instance, low blood pressure and diabetes are often intertwined with poor balance. Research from South Korea also suggests many adult fall cases are related to eye conditions like glaucoma or cataracts. For instance, adults with glaucoma had a 40 percent greater risk of falling than non-glaucoma patients.
Side effects related to prescription medications could also contribute to falls. Indeed, Harvard Medical School recently revealed many classes of drugs are often associated with fall cases. Anyone taking opioids, antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, or sleep medications could be at an increased risk of a fall.
Interestingly, there’s also evidence suggesting a patient’s vitamin D levels may affect their risk of falls or fractures. A 2016 trial out of UC San Francisco suggested high-dose vitamin D supplementation could increase the risk of falls by 15 percent.
Only a certified doctor could evaluate each patient’s unique case and recommend an actionable fall prevention strategy. Depending on a doctor’s findings, he or she may request further tests from specialists like ophthalmologists or neurologists. After reviewing this data, a physician should put together a plan to help patients reduce the risk of future falls. These steps may include quitting alcohol, changing a person’s living space, or physical therapy.
Don’t Stop Moving! — The Importance Of Regular Exercise
Speaking of physical therapy, exercise is an essential feature of fall prevention. Unfortunately, as many people get older, they grow increasingly wary of exercise routines. Often, the fear of falling prevents people from staying fit, which increases the risk of serious falls.
However, research clearly shows that the more people walk, the less likely they will suffer a significant fall. One study found that people who walked more than 5,000 steps per day had a 60 percent reduction in fall incidence.
That being said, older adults must choose an exercise routine that’s suitable for their condition. For instance, there’s now data suggesting extraneous activities like walking downhill could increase an adult’s risk of falling.
Arguably, Tai Chi is the best-studied exercise routine for older adults. Harvard Medical School recently said adults who regularly practice Tai Chi movements have a 45 percent reduction in falls. Some researchers also believe Tai Chi has a beneficial effect on people struggling with balance issues related to Parkinson’s disease.
Feel More “Balanced” With Strong Social Support
Mental health conditions like depression are common after a person’s first fall. According to recent data, at least half of people who sustain a traumatic brain injury after a fall suffers from depression.
Scientists also find that the older people get, the more they report a “fear of falling.” Indeed, one study found roughly 45 percent of older respondents claimed they felt apprehensive about falling. According to researchers, these worries didn’t diminish with age.
Mental health conditions are often associated with a reduced quality of life and isolation. There’s mounting data that suggests adults who are socially isolated have a higher risk of falls.
For instance, a study from the University of Massachusetts found that adults who reported loneliness and a lack of social support had a 37 percent higher risk of falls. Researchers also found that adults who reported depression symptoms had a 47 percent elevated risk of falling.
If adults are experiencing issues like isolation or depression, they should bring up these concerns with a medical professional. Often, doctors could refer patients to social groups or a professional cognitive-behavioral therapist.
While antidepressants may help adults manage their mental health, it’s important to remember these drugs come with side effects. Most significantly, some antidepressants could increase dizziness, which could increase the risk of balance-related issues. Patients should carefully monitor their reactions to any prescription medications and report any concerns to a medical authority.
Well-Lit & Spacious — Creating A Fall-Proof Home Design
As adults grow older, they also need to re-think their home’s layout. Adding features like safety rails, non-slip mats, and lighting can significantly impact fall prevention.
Indeed, a new investigation out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute discovered low ambient lighting and “visual cues” could reduce the risk of falling. Researchers noted these lights should illuminate areas when adults transition from one position to another (e.g., sitting to standing). This extra light seems to help adults feel steady while moving throughout their homes.
Health experts at Mayo Clinic also recommend getting rid of any unnecessary clutter. The more “things” crowd a person’s life, the more opportunities there are for a fall. Not only that, there’s empirical evidence that too much “stuff” messes with our minds. In fact, new data shows people who don’t have an organized home have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Fall-proofing a home may take time and effort, but it’s a simple way adults can remain safe and independent as they age.
Prevent Adult Falls With Plenty Of Techie Tools!
While the tips above can decrease the risk of a fall, there are no guarantees in life. For this reason, health authorities recommend older adults always have a medical alert device at all times. This could include a dedicated “LifeLine” style necklace, a mobile phone app, or an electronic watch. If adults are living on their own, they need a way to reach out for help in the event of a fall. The sooner seniors receive medical attention, the better chance they can make a full recovery.