Singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen died recently, the cause of death – a fall. Falls can be devastating, especially as you age.
In the last 12 months, the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital trauma team has admitted more than 1,000 patients due to a fall – that represents more than half of traumatic admissions at our center. This pandemic isn’t unique to Michigan or the Midwest. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every 13 seconds an older American visits the emergency room due to a fall.
But falling is not a natural part of aging. Staying active in your daily life is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of falling.
Four tips to stay strong:
1. Take an extra lap or two around the grocery store to increase the number of steps you travel.
2. Position yourself next to a counter or a stable piece of furniture to help keep you balanced – stand on one leg and count to 10. Switch and stand on the other leg.
3. Do ankle pumps while sitting. Stretch your legs in front and flex the feet up and down. Add in ankle rolls and knee lifts.
4. Get up from a chair without using the arm rests (assuming it is not on wheels). This straightens the spine and works the core muscles.
We must recognize that falls are serious. They can be as serious as a heart attack. Or a stroke. Or cancer.
One serious fall can result in devastating injuries that leave you unable to live independently. The cost of hospitalization and treatment may be catastrophic. And half of those who fall once will fall a second time.
Changes in health generally occur over long periods of time so you may underestimate your risk of falling. It is important to talk to your physician or healthcare provider about your fall risk and discuss ways to reduce it.
Prevention is the key. Researchers have honed in on six steps that have been shown to reduce fall risk:
- Home modification. Get rid of slippery rugs. Declutter. Make sure you have good lighting. Keep the driveway clear. Fix steps that are cracked.
- Mobility and balance. Do physical activities every week that help keep you strong and balanced, such as tai chi, aquatic exercises or fitness classes.
- Talk to your doctor. Do you take medication or have a condition that can make falls more likely? Has your vision diminished or your reflexes changed?
- Get an annual eye exam.
- Wear solid footwear.
- Have your hearing checked. Your balance center is in your inner ear, so changes in hearing will affect balance—and hearing aids might improve it.
For the family and friends of aging adults who are at risk of falling, we recommend you show your love by making home repairs or providing tools that will keep them on both feet. Your aged parent or grandparent might not need another holiday scarf, but they could really use, for example, grab bars in the bathroom or a sturdy railing attached to the stairs in the garage.
Please discuss this issue with loved ones and offer to join them for a walk or another activity. Our goal is to significantly reduce the number and severity of falls. Changing behaviors will keep more members of our aging population safe, independent and enjoying life, injury-free.
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