Many of us have aging family members that we worry about, but most of us aren’t aware that the population of Washington residents over the age of 65 is expected to grow to 1.2 million by 2020. As Washingtonians grow older, their risk of falls greatly increases. One out of 3 Americans over the age of 65 fall every year.
In fact, 20 percent of these falls cause serious injuries (broken bones, head injury, etc.), and falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths for those over the age of 65. Worse, over half of these falls happen in the comfort of our homes.
As Thurston County residents age, it is important to keep in mind preventive measures we can take to reduce falls. Being aware of this risk can help us reduce harm within our homes (and our loved ones’ homes).
The Centers for Disease Control targets a few key areas of our lives in which we can reduce the risk of falls:
- Check your medications: certain medications cause dizziness and increase risk of fall.
- As we age, we have increased risk of low blood pressure if we get up too quickly. Ask your provider about your risk of postural hypotension.
- Talk about the risk of osteoporosis (thinning of bone), which can increase the risk of fracture with small falls.
- Maintaining strength and balance is critical in reducing fall risk.
- Talk with your doctor about an appropriate exercise program, or try this one at home (http://bit.ly/2mibzE0).
- Try Tai Ji Quan, which is an evidence-based fall-prevention exercise program.
Vision and footwear
- Our vision may change gradually without us recognizing its severity. To combat this, have your eyes checked once a year.
- Poor vision can increase risk of falls.
- Insure you have proper footwear and have your provider check your feet.
- Keep your home free of clutter, which can be a trip hazard.
- Despite their aesthetic appeal, rugs can be dangerous, even if they appear stable on the ground. Remove all throw rugs from your home.
- Ensure grab bars are available next to your tub, toilet, and staircase.
- Ensure your home has proper lighting.
- Follow this interactive model (http://lifetimehome.org/) to see examples of how to reduce fall risk in your home.
Follow the Centers for Disease Control’s Check for Safety checklist to help guide your assessment of your risk of fall (or your loved one’s risk of fall).
It is important to be aware of the prevalence of falls, as well as the steps you can take to reduce the risk of falling for yourself and your loved ones. If you have a parent, neighbor, family or friend who is over the age of 65, talk with them about the importance of fall risk reduction, and educate them on the strategies above. A good place to start is by asking them the National Council on Aging’s 6 Steps to Protect Your Older Loved One from a Fall.
It’s not always possible to prevent falls, but it is possible to reduce the risks through careful preparation and informed choices.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.