September 23 is National Falls Prevention Awareness Day. And it’s a day to really think about what we often take for granted. Balance does seem to be such an easy thing to maintain, but as you get older, the risk of falls increases unless you really work at it. Fortunately, diet and exercise can make a difference in helping elders maintain their balance.
So what are the facts about falling among the elderly? The Colorado State University Extension has produced a fact sheet based on the latest research. The findings include:
- The risk of falling increases with age and is greater for women than for men.
- Two-thirds of those who experience a fall will fall again within six months.
- A decrease in bone density contributes to falls and resultant injuries.
- Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased strength, and loss of bone mass and flexibility.
- Approximately 9,500 deaths in older Americans are associated with falls each year. The elderly account for seventy-five percent of deaths from falls.
- Among people 65 to 69, one out of every 200 falls results in a hip fracture, and among those 85 or over, one fall in 10 results in a hip fracture.
- At least one-third of all falls in the elderly involve environmental hazards in the home.
- One-fourth of those who fracture a hip die within six months of the injury.
- The most profound effect of falling is the loss of independent functioning. Twenty-five percent of those who fracture a hip require life-long nursing care. About 50 percent of the elderly who sustain a fall-related injury will be discharged to a nursing home rather than return home.
In addition, Health News Digest reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that $19 billion is spent annually on treating the elderly for the adverse effects of falls including $12 billion for hospitalization, $4 billion for emergency department visits, and $3 billion for outpatient care, with most of those expenses paid for by Medicare. The amount is projected to skyrocket to $55 billion annually without dedicated falls prevention efforts.
According to Colorado State University, factors that can lead to falls include:
- Osteoporosis, which is caused by hormonal changes, calcium and vitamin D deficiency, and limited physical exercise. To avoid this, be sure to get enough calcium through food such as milk, yogurt, cheese, fish, shellfish, broccoli, soybeans, collards, turnip greens, tofu and almonds. Vitamin D can be found in supplements and made naturally through getting outdoors in the sun. In addition, regularly do weight-bearing exercises.
- Lack of physical activity, which can contribute to falls. Take part in regular exercise and wear proper fitting, supportive shoes with low heels or rubber soles. In addition, elders need to learn how to bend and reach properly and how to maintain their balance when getting up out of a chair or bed. They also need to learn the proper way to fall and how to recover after they fall.
- Impaired vision, such as cataracts and glaucoma, which alter depth perception, visual acuity, peripheral vision and susceptibility to glare.
- Medications, such as sedatives, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotic drugs. These drugs reduce mental alertness, worsen balance and walking patterns, and cause drops in blood pressure when a person is standing.
- Environmental hazards, such as tripping over rugs or cracks in sidewalks and driveways. Other hazards can include pets, snow and ice, clutter, and electrical cords.
Balance is critical to living a long and fruitful life. A focus on diet and exercise, as well as maintaining visual health, creating a safe environment, and being careful with medications can help the elderly stay upright and healthy.
Published On: September 22, 2010