In the United States millions of seniors experience a serious fall every year according to the CDC. The ramifications of those falls are enormous. Related healthcare costs are over $34 billion per year because of hospitalization, treatment, rehabilitation therapy, medication, among other factors. These numbers do not take into account the cost of having to move to a long-term care home permanently. Author Atul Gawande writes in Being Mortal that 40 percent of those who survive their fall will, in fact, end up in a long-term care home. And nearly 20% of the fallers will never walk again. I have known too many people who have landed in both of those categories. I have also known those who never woke up from their falls as a result of sustaining a severe head injury.
According to Gawande, it is possible to take a bit of the mystery out of who is at risk for falling. Do you take four or more medications daily? Do you have muscle weakness? Do you have problems with your balance? Saying yes to one of those risk factors places an elderly person at a 12 percent chance of falling in a year. An aging person with all three risk factors has a 100% chance of falling within a year.
If an individual is at high risk for falling, an accident does not need to be inevitable; there are steps one can take to reduce the chance.
- Talk to your doctor about your medications. Can you replace a drug that has a side effect of dizziness with one that is not expected to cause dizziness?
- Remove hazards. Place electrical cords and area rugs out of the high-traffic areas of the home.
- Make sure lighting is adequate and prescription glasses are worn.
- Wear non-slip shoes.
- Be mindful of pets as they are easy to trip over.
- Consume enough calories throughout the day and stay hydrated.
Perhaps with a little care and a few lifestyle changes, if needed, you and your loved ones can avoid experiencing a serious and devastating fall.