Fall Prevention 101

There isn’t anything that can be said about this topic that hasn’t already been said; that you probably haven’t already heard—many times. There’s no new research, no new findings, just the same old stuff.

But it bears repeating, so it will be repeated right here. Right now. Again. It really cannot be said too much, because the numbers haven’t gone down. The statistics haven’t changed.
Approximately thirty-two thousand—that’s 32,000–people die each and every year in the United States alone as a result of falls. That’s 32,000 too many, because by and large, nearly all of them could be prevented.

Prevention. Such a nice word. It has a ring to it. It sounds positive, like something each and every one of us would eagerly practice if we were just shown how. It sounds like something we would all rush out and engage in, because we all believe in it. Except most of us don’t—engage in it, that is. Even though we believe in prevention.

It sounds like something that could shave off millions of dollars in medical costs to our society, mostly through Medicare.

The proof, however, is in the pudding. Most of us don’t follow the simple rules we are aware of, and we most likely don’t seek advice that we don’t already know about in order to keep from becoming a statistic. We tend, as humans are wont to do, to think we are invincible. “It won’t happen to me.”

And then it does. In any number of ways, it can happen to you. Here are some common and not-so-common ways that falls can occur:

  • slipping on ice
  • falling down stairs
  • falling up stairs.
  • missing the last step and plunging forward
  • falling due to alcohol indulgence or other drug effects
  • falling off a treadmill
  • falling in the bathtub or shower
  • tripping over a throw rug
  • tripping over a pet
  • tripping over oxygen tubing
  • tripping over clutter
  • dizziness caused by medications
  • getting up in the night to use the bathroom with no lights
  • getting up and experiencing balance problems
  • getting up and sleepwalking
  • rushing to get somewhere
  • failure to heed the advice from a medical professional to use one’s walker or other safety recommendations to ambulate.
    • In most of the above contexts, the fall takes place in the home, which is statistically where most falls occur. Specifically, the kitchen and bathroom are the two most common places where falls occur.

      All of us know what it means to fall, but it is officially defined as:
      “an unintentional event that results in a person coming to rest on the ground or another lower level.”

      There are three phases to a fall:
      1: an event that displaces the body’s center of mass beyond its base of support
      2: failure to maintain upright posture to correct this displacement
      3: the impact of the body on environmental surfaces

      The human body is amazing on so many levels. So many abilities are wondrous, and we typically take them for granted. The ability to keep our bodies upright—adult bodies are typically between five and six feet tall—on our feet, which are relatively small in comparison to the size of the rest of the body, can somehow support and balance the rest of our bodies to keep them upright. Not a small feat—pun intended.

      The most common injuries reported from falls are fractures, namely hip, wrist, arm and pelvis. Attempting to break a fall with one’s hands is a reflexive response while falling, thus accounting for the wrist and arm fractures.

      A potential serious effect is a head injury. Unlike fractures, head injuries typically don’t completely heal. Most people who experience head injuries are left with lingering deficits that may lessen over time, but don’t typically ever return to “normal.” In the most severe cases, the person bears little resemblance to the person they once were. Some family members and loved ones of such victims report: “The old person died, and a new one is here in their place.”

      Just in case this information isn’t sobering enough for you to practice prevention, here are more facts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/index.html :

      • One in four people over 65 fall each year, with less than half telling their doctor
      • Falling once doubles your chances of falling again
      • One in five falls causes a serious injury, such as a head injury or hip fracture
      • Three million people are treated in emergency departments for falls
      • 800,000 people are hospitalized each year because of a fall
      • 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls, mostly falling sideways
      • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI)
      • In 2015, Medicare/Medicaid paid for 78% of the $50 billion medical tab for falls
        • Being aware of the above factors and keeping them in mind will increase your chances of fall prevention. In addition, consider these tips:

          • do strength and balance exercises
          • have your eyes checked
          • add grab bars in shower or tub
          • add more lighting to your home
          • use the handrails on stairs for stability
          • make sure your winter shoes have adequate traction
          • consider purchasing crampons: covers for your shoe soles with short spikes for increased traction
          • believe that you are not invincible or immune, because none of us are
            • Being careful, mindful and aware of risks is the best advice for anyone and everyone, because anyone and everyone can experience a fall. They are more common in the 65+ population, but they can occur at any age.

              Fall is once again upon us, so let’s keep fall a positive word: fall in love with the beautiful fall colors, but please don’t fall down.

              Instead, simply slow down. It’s much easier to enjoy the beautiful fall colors that way.