Falls are a serious problem
Falls are the number one reason people end up in the emergency room at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. The facts about falls are alarming - and probably surprising:
- One in three adults over the age of 64 falls each year.
- Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in Florida residents over the age of 64.
- Every hour there are 2 deaths and 251 emergency room visits in the US because of a fall.
- 20 - 30% of older adults who fall sustain serious injury.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, fractures and hospitalization in older adults.
- Even falls without an injury can limit one's mobility and/or cause a fear of falling.
Why do older adults fall?
The causes of falls can be complex and generally include more than one factor. Risk factors for falls are broken into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic risk factors are those that are naturally a part of your life as an older adult. The include:
- Leg weakness
- Previous falls
- Problems with walking or balance
- Problems with vision like cataracts or macular degeneration
- Age over 80 years
- Medical problems like Parkinson's disease, stroke, neuropathy or diabetes
- Conditions that cause confusion, like dementia or Alzheimer's disease
- Low blood pressure
Extrinsic risk factors are those that come from "outside" the body. They include:
- Using 4 or more medications or taking psychoactive medications (sedatives, antidepressants)
- Home hazards (throw rugs, poor lighting, pets, wet surfaces, cords)
What can you do to prevent falls?
Falls are not inevitable. Here are some ways that you can prevent falls:
- Exercise regularly. Exercises that include strengthening, flexibility and balance are proven to prevent loss of muscle strength and falls.
- Manage your medications. Some medications can increase your risk of falling and many medications have dizziness as a side effect. Talks with your doctor about your medications. Bring all of your medications to your next doctor's appointment and ask for them to be reviewed for the purpose of reducing your risk of falls.
- Have your vision checked annually. There is a close association between reduced vision and falls risk. Make sure that you are wearing your glasses.
- Inspect your home for hazards. Make sure to remove anything you can trip over (throw rugs, cords). Be sure that you have adequate lighting. Install and use hand rails along all of your steps. Place grab bars in the shower/tub and near your toilet.
- Talk to your doctor. Have your doctor assess you for risk of falls. Your doctor may be able to reduce your risk of falling or refer you to a specialist for evaluation and treatment of your risks.
- If a cane or walker has been recommended for you, use it! You will not become "dependent" or "weaker" because of it. In fact, it may stop you from serious injury.
- If you are having problems with incontinence or urgency, talk with your doctor. Rushing to the bathroom can increase your risk of falls, especially at night.
- If you are getting light-headed when you stand up, talk to your doctor. Your blood pressure might be fluctuating. If this is happening, make sure you are drinking enough water and change positions slowly. Be cautious standing up.
- If you are having dizziness, vertigo or balance problems, talk to your doctor. You may have problems with your inner ear that will increase your risk of falls.
- See a physical therapist. A physical therapist can evaluate your strength, balance, walking, mobility and function. Based on the findings, the therapist will make recommendations for your safety and create an exercise or therapy program for you to reduce your risk of falls.
Falls are not normal. Preventing falls is within your power.
The best way to prevent a fall is to talk to your doctor and family.
TMH Physician Partners, Neurology Specialists offers an evidence-based Falls Prevention Program that is based on the American Geriatric Society's Clinical Fall Prevention Guidelines. This is a program which specializes in the prevention of falls and injuries in older adults who have fallen or are at risk for falls. The program is an interdisciplinary program that consists of physicians and physical therapists that specialize in falls prevention. At your visit you will complete a screening questionnaire and see a neurologist. When appropriate, you will be evaluated by a specially-trained physical therapist. Your underlying risk factors or potential causes for falls will be identified and you will be provided with an individualized treatment plan to prevent future falls.
Treatment plan to include:
- Specific recommendations, including referrals to appropriate specialists (ophthalmologists, orthopedists, cardiologists).
- Strategies to address strength, balance, pain and flexibility problems.
- Strategies to address visual or sensation problems.
- Review of medications for possible side effects.
- Strategies to address home safety risks.
- Strategies to address problems walking.
- Referral to educational programs.
If you would like to learn more about falls prevention or our falls prevention program, please call TMH Physician Partners, Neurology Specialists at 850-431-5001 or fill out our online submission form.