Last weekend, I saw ice on the ground for the first time this year. It was a small patch, but I’m glad I saw it before I stepped on it. With the early arrival of winter, visits to hospital emergency rooms due to falls will increase in the coming weeks.
According to the U.S. Administration for Community Living (www.acl.gov), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people age 65 and older. Every 14 seconds, an older adult is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury.
Falls tend to increase during the winter months, especially with wet, cold and slippery conditions. In addition, more falls seem to occur around the holidays, when people are out more and may be unfamiliar with their surroundings. A November 2018 article, “The Most Common Injuries Around the Holidays, According to ER Doctors,” on the blog 24/7 Wall St. listed 14 types of injury — five of which were caused by falls.
About half of all falls occur at home. The incidence of falls increases after age 50 and gradually rises with age, as does the risk for severe injuries and mortality. One in four Americans over 65 falls every year. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older Americans. Falls are costly — in dollars and in quality of life. However, falling is not an inevitable part of aging.
No matter what your age, you can reduce your risk for falls by improving your strength, balance and flexibility, and by taking steps to make your home is safe.
Make your home safer.
Keep sidewalks and steps free of snow and ice.
Remove clutter that could easily be tripped over in places where you walk.
Remove small throw rugs.
Keep items you use frequently within reach to avoid the need to use a step stool.
Improve lighting in the home.
Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower.
Wear shoes that provide good support and have nonslip soles.
If you use a cane or a walker, your doctor or physical therapist should check to make sure that your cane is sized properly and that you are using your cane correctly when walking.
Exercise that includes a combination of weightlifting (resistance training) and cardio exercises can reduce the incidence of falls by making you stronger and more coordinated. Regular physical activity is essential to improving and maintaining strength, flexibility and balance to prevent falls.
Some people believe that the best way to prevent falls is to stay at home and limit their activity. This is simply not true. Staying active and strong with a good range of motion will help you avoid falls and will help you stay independent.
Review your medications.
Falls are often an indication of other underlying conditions such as gait or balance problems that may be related to medications. Some medicines or certain combinations of medicines can interact adversely and cause drowsiness or lightheadedness.
Get your vision checked.
Your eyeglasses prescription may need to be updated, or you may have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that can limit your vision.
When should you see a doctor?
If you have any concerns after a fall, get medical attention. If you have a condition like osteoporosis that puts you at higher risk for fracture, definitely see your doctor. Also, keep in mind that as we age, sometimes our pain threshold becomes greater, so pain may be more difficult to gauge.
The following symptoms are reasons to go to the emergency department:
Significant amount of pain or swelling.
Limited motion of a limb.
Any changes in alertness or mental status, headaches, dizziness, or visual changes.
Loss of sensation or movement in a limb.
Winter can be beautiful. But it sometimes comes with challenges. Make sure you stay safe during icy conditions.
Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.