Falls have become a public health crisis, according to the American Trauma Society. They are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults.
One out of every three adults age 65 and older falls each year. Of those, two out of three will fall again within six months. Of those reported, 20-30 percent will sustain moderate to severe injuries, which will prevent them from returning home or living alone again.
As an experienced ER/trauma nurse I have encountered many traumatic injuries that are direct results of falls. The older adult population supersedes any other age group in this area of injury. Many of these patients end up with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and often do not have good outcomes. This tends to lead to extended hospital stays, longer rehabilitation, permanent disabilities and even death; ultimately resulting in extreme health care expenses and strain on medical facilities and families.
Approximately half of the falls occur at home. This is where many older adults spend most of their time. Modification of the living environment can reduce the chances of falling at home. Some of the everyday situations that should be evaluated and possibly modified for fall prevention include:
- Bathroom - Install grab bars and use non-slip mats (do not use towel racks as grab bars). Toilets may need raised seats and grab bars installed nearby.
- Stairs – Install hand rails on both sides of the stairs. Install brighter lights and switches at both ends.
- Clutter (books, clothes, newspapers, shoes, etc.) – Remove from any walk areas.
- Rugs – Remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them to the floor, edges and corners included.
- Reachable – Keep most used items at levels that are easily reached.
Tell your doctor if you have fallen in the past, have difficulty walking or getting out of bed or chairs, difficulty maintaining balance while walking, or have been feeling weak or dizzy. Your doctor will most likely want to do a fall risk assessment, which should include: having your vision checked, review of medications, and look for causative medical conditions, amongst a few.
Exercising regularly to maintain strength and balance is a good way to help prevent falls.
A couple examples would be routine walks and stretching. In the hotter and colder months the malls make a good place to walk early in the morning before it gets too busy. Always check with your health care provider before beginning any exercise programs or altering medications so that they can tailor them to your specific needs.
Rhonda Thompson, EMT, RN, is an Injury Prevention Coordinator for Botsford Hospital Trauma Services, 28050 Grand River Ave., Farmington Hills. Contact her at 248-888-2586 or firstname.lastname@example.org