For weeks, friends and neighbors worked on planning a surprise block party for my friend Margaret’s 90th birthday. On the big day, over 50 people showed up with food, drink and gifts to celebrate this amazing lady.
Several of the neighbors who attended the party had read my Acorn column about my fall. Soon I had a group of women surrounding me talking about their recent falls—their broken bones, black eyes and ongoing recoveries. In each case, these women recounted the accident that resulted in their fall. We all listened with sympathy and understanding.
Since my fall, I have done a great deal of reading about the falls of older adults. I learned how common they are. Each year, millions of older people fall.
It is estimated that more than one out of four older people fall each year, and falling once doubles your chances of falling again. Most falls occur at home.
I also learned how lethal falls can be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults ages 65 and older falls each year. Of those who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard for them to get around or live independently, and these falls increase their risk of early death.
Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.
Not too long ago, I wrote a column about my 79-year-old friend whose fall resulted in a brain injury. I’m very sad to relay that she passed away just three months after her fall. It was heartbreaking to see her mental and physical health decline so rapidly.
What surprised me most was learning that most falls are not the true definition of an “accident” because they don’t happen by chance or without a cause.
I learned that many falls can be prevented, and while most are caused by a combination of risk factors, reducing those risk factors can reduce the risk of a fall.
Here are some ways to decrease the risk:
Improve balance and strength with exercise. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi can help strengthen muscles. Fall prevention and balance classes can also help if you feel unsteady, are worried about falling or are less mobile than you used to be. These classes focus on your balance and pattern of walking.
Have your eyesight checked. Often falls are caused by issues with depth perception, which can be caused when older adults wear bifocal/multifocal glasses while walking or climbing stairs. The glasses are usually designed to be used looking down while reading. When the eyes are focused downward while walking looking through these same lenses, depth perception becomes greatly distorted. Additionally, seniors with cataracts or who have macular degeneration can experience a loss of depth perception.
Fall-proof your home and yard. Get rid of or be aware of things you could trip over. Add grab bars to the inside and outside of your tub or shower and next to the toilet. Make sure your home has bright lighting.
Consider using a cane to help with balance when walking to the bathroom at night. Many falls occur when heading to the bathroom. To reduce the risk of dizziness, get up very slowly, put your legs on ground and wait a full minute before standing. Also, try not to have a sense of urgency when getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. Consider wearing disposable underwear if accidents are a concern.
Check with your doctor about your medications. The use of tranquilizers, sedatives or antidepressants and some over the counter medicines can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet.
Focus on walking. Save phone conversations for when you are sitting, and be careful not to get tangled in your pet’s leash while walking.
Most falls have a cause, and many can be prevented if we know what to look out for.
Thanks to those of you who reached out. I am feeling much better and hope that my fall can influence how seriously you consider your own fall risks in your future.