Many people become accustomed to falling as they age, considering it "normal" and okay as long as they avoid injury. In fact, falling is not normal, and every time it happens, your chances of falling again go up. Consequently, the more often you fall, the more likely you are to severely injury yourself, and risk never coming home. Falling is one of the leading causes of hospitalizations and nursing home admissions, and can lead to permanent assisted living or death.
Falls can be prevented. A few adjustments in the home and public can help keep you upright and away from danger. Communicating frequently with your family provider and remaining physically active also help keep you safe.
Moreover, if you do fall, there are ways to fall safely. As fast as a fall can happen, a quick thought of how to position your head or avoid reaching a hand out can save you time in the hospital, rehab, or the nursing home. On this episode, Courtney Engel, Occupational Therapist, discusses the shocking statistics related to falls and how we can bring those statistics down.
Every 10 seconds, an older person is taken to the Emergency Room with injuries from a fall. That is more than 3,000,000 each year. Of those, 800,000 will have injuries severe enough to require hospitalization. Many will have traumatic brain injuries. 300,000 will have hip fractures requring nursing home care and physical therapy. Many will never go home.
Of the 2,200,000 who are not hospitalized, they will return home, and be twice as likely to fall again. The next time, they might not be so lucky.
What's the worst part? It can all be prevented. Half of the 3 million ER patients will never tell their provider that they fell, which could make all the difference in whether they fall again or not. Adjustments in medications, referral to physical therapy for balance screenings, and simply removing a coffee table from a living room can help ensure you don't fall again. Consider little changes like using handrails, not being afraid to use a walker or someone for support while in public, and doing exercises to build and maintain leg muscles. Activities such as Tai Chi can help improve your balance and increase spatial awareness, reducing your risk of falling.
Falling is also a leading cause of hip and wrist fractures, and head trauma. In the event that you do fall, the natural instinct is to put your hand out to cushion the blow. Instead, fall "on the meat." Tuck your head in to avoid hitting it on anything and try to turn your body to fall on the meat. Subscriptions to things like Life Alert are also something to consider.
Falling should not be normal, or acceptable. For anyone who has fallen or feels likely to fall, seek help. Talk to your provider, and call your rehab department for their recommendations.
Courtney Engel, OT coordinates the Low Vision Support Group and coordinates occupational therapy services
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