Fall

“It’s not the fall that gets you, it’s the landing.”

Ahh, fall.  It’s almost that glorious season when the weather cools and the trees take on beautiful hues of orange, red and yellow.   But that’s not what we’re discussing here.  After the fall season comes winter, and that’s when outdoor falls rise precipitously.

Indoor falls in one’s home, however, are the leading cause of injury and loss of independence among those over 65.

Let’s just get the ugly facts out first, and then discuss it more:

  • 420,000 people worldwide die annually as a result of a fall.
  • 32,000 of those are in the United States.
  • Falls kill three times more people than guns in the U.S.
  • Falls are the leading cause of death by injury in those over 60.
  • The average hospitalization cost after a fall in 2012 was $34,000.

All of us have fallen at one time or another.  We trip, we slip on ice, we stumble on a throw rug, we sit up too fast and become lightheaded, we experience vertigo and simply fall to the floor or ground.   We miss a step, fall off the curb or fall in the shower.  We trip over a pet, or get up in the night and don’t turn on the light when we should.  The causes are many, the results are typically more narrow.

With age, the risk of a broken hip increases in direct proportion to advancing age.  One’s reflexes are slower, and the ability to break a fall with the hands decreases.  The younger the person, the greater chance the fall is broken by the hands.  This can lead to broken wrists, but this injury is typically less life-altering and shorter term than broken hips.

The risk of head injury is ever-present.  Striking one’s head on the way down on furniture or other objects, or striking it on the floor upon impact remains one of the greatest risks, and one of the top potential long-term injuries.

Other injuries are always possible.  Broken ribs, arms or legs are frequent results of a fall.  Extensive bruising is common as well.  Lacerations often happen on the way down, too.

The human body is a wonder of balance.  How an adult of five feet tall or greater can stand and balance on two feet that are relatively small in proportion to the rest of the body above it is truly an engineering wonder.  But it works—usually.

The inner ear is the center of balance.  When it is not functioning properly, one’s balance is affected, and the risk of falling increases.  Dizziness, vertigo and light-headedness can multiply a person’s risk of falling.  If you feel these symptoms, consult your healthcare practitioner.

Overindulgence in alcohol at any age can affect one’s balance:  moderation and caution are key.

The best treatment for a fall is prevention.  There are many simple things that can be done to decrease fall risk, including:

  • wearing shoes with good traction and low heels.
  • Arrange furniture to create clear pathways.
  • Avoid piling up extraneous objects—newspapers, books, boxes, etc—that may be in your path.
  • Choose a carpet pattern that highlights the edge of steps.
  • Use handrails whenever present.  If you do not have sufficient rails in your home or the entrances, have them installed.
  • Install grab bars in your shower if you don’t already have them, as well as traction sheets in the tub.
  • Place bright colored tape with traction strips on the steps.
  • When using a stepladder, make sure it is fully opened with both spreaders firmly locked.  Heed the warning on the top:  This is not a step!
  • Keep the paths well lit, especially at night when getting up.
  • Eliminate throw rugs.  If you must keep them, use double-stick tape or rubberized sheets on the bottom to secure them.
  • Learn to use recommended mobility aids such as a cane or walker. Listen to your doctor or physical therapist when they tell you to use them!
  • Furniture surfing” doesn’t take the place of a cane or walker.  Grabbing on to chairs and couches as you navigate your house is inviting risk.
  • Be sure the chair is squarely behind you before you sit down by placing both hands firmly on the armrests and lowering yourself slowly into the chair.
  • Ask for help when walking outside on ice.  Place crampons (spiked, rubberized webs that cover the shoe bottom) on your shoes for extra traction.
  • Be aware of pets that may be underfoot.
  • If you rely upon oxygen through a tube, be sure the tubing doesn’t become tangled in your feet.  Typically, there are many feet of tubing that lead to the tank, and they can become easily entangled.
  • Forget invincibility.   Falls can and do happen to anyone at any age.

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Stay safe and be careful.   Enjoy the beautiful fall weather and resplendent colors in nature.  Keep fall a beautiful thing, not an accidental thing.