It’s well established that falls are the leading cause of hospitalization among older adults as well as the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for seniors. Falls not only can cause injury to older adults, but disabilities resulting from a fall can also threaten independence and cost seniors economically and personally.
But with all we know about the risk seniors have for falls, according to the New York Times, a new study has found the rate of deaths after falls is rising for adults over the age of 75. With a rapidly growing elderly population, the number of older adults who died following a fall is on the rise, more than doubling from 2000 to 2016.
Older adults are living longer thanks to medical advances but many seniors have multiple chronic health conditions that place them at increased risk for falls. Medication side effects and drug interactions can also increase the risk of having a fall. But there are things older adults can do to help lower their risk for having a fall that leads to injury or death, and getting regular exercise is top of the list.
Older adults should aim to get at least 20 minutes a day of aerobic exercise combined with strength training each day. Activities like Tai Chi help to improve balance with slow, precise movements designed to connect the breath with the body. Tai Chi helps train the body to avoid falls; the practice requires the participant to step or lean far forward or to the side. With time, the core muscles will be better able to stabilize the body and prevent falls.
Older adults should also be careful about taking prescription sleep aids or other sedating drugs. As we age, the body metabolizes drugs differently and medications like benzodiazepines (Valium or Xanax) can cause dizziness and compromise balance. Talk to your doctor about alternatives.
Falls around the home can be better avoided by cleaning up any clutter or throw rugs on the floor, keeping hallways well lit and wearing low heeled, grippy shoes. If you have been prescribed a cane or walker, be sure to use it properly. Being able to see properly is also important to prevent falls and bi-focal lenses can sometimes create difficulty with depth perception for wearers. Try using a single focus lens for walking outdoors when you may have to step down off curbs or climb stairs. Wearing hip protectors at all times may prevent a hip fracture in the event of a fall but also gives confidence to those who have a history of falls.
Finally, drink plenty of water, even if it means visiting the bathroom more frequently. Elderly adults are more susceptible to dehydration because the sense of thirst can diminish in older age. Staying well hydrated not only helps to prevent dizziness that can lead to falls, but it also helps prevent UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) and flush out medications properly so they don’t build up in the system.
Learn more about fall prevention by following this link to the National Council on Aging.