Falls Aren’t Just a Normal Part of Aging — They Are Preventable!

It’s fall — an ideal time to put on a light sweater, take a walk in the crisp air, and watch the green leaves being replaced by dazzling amber, maroon, gold, and bronze hues.

Besides the rustic colors, crunchy leaves beneath your feet, and pumpkin-flavored everything, the first week of fall each year holds special meaning for seniors. The first week of fall each year is recognized as National Fall Prevention Awareness Week (you know — the other type of fall). And, it’s happening now! (September 17-21, 2018)

The reason why this particular week is so important is that everyone should be educated about falls, know how to prevent them, and what actions to take when they occur. Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injuries, hospital admissions, and deaths among older adults in the U.S., and they can have a critical impact on their independence and quality of life.

Every second of every day, an adult aged 65 or older falls in the United States. Every 12 seconds, one of these older Americans is admitted to the emergency department for a fall; and every day, 74 of those will die from a fall.

Falls are Serious and Costly

In 2015, the Medicare costs of falls requiring medical treatment were more than $31 billion, and the average cost of a nonfatal fall was nearly $10,000. Here are some other startling statistics about falls:

  • One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bone or a head injury;
  • Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries;
  • Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture;
  • Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures;
  • More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways;
  • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI);
  • The total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.

Falls aren’t just a normal part of aging. Older Americans and their caregivers can take steps to prevent them.

Help Protect the Ones You Love. Take Steps to Prevent Falls.

The good news is that with the right activity/exercise, medical management, and planning/lifestyle modifications, falls are preventable. Here are some steps you should take if you are experiencing them:

  • Speak up. Older adults can talk to their doctor or healthcare provider about their risk of falling and what they can do to help prevent falls. They should tell their healthcare providers right away if they have fallen, if they are afraid of falling, or even if they feel unsteady when walking or standing.
    • Ask your doctor or healthcare provider to evaluate your risk for falling and talk with them about specific things you can do.
    • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. This should include prescription medicines, over-the counter medicines, and supplements.
    • Inquire about which medications might be stopped, reduced, or switched if side effects are putting you at risk for falls.
    • Additionally, ask the healthcare provider if taking Vitamin D supplements might help improve nerve, muscle, and bone health.
    • Keep moving. Activities that strengthen legs and help with balance, such as Tai Chi, can help prevent falls. These exercises should get more challenging over time to continue increasing strength and balance. Check with healthcare providers about recommending an exercise program appropriate for the person.
    • Get annual physical exams. Have an annual physical checkup. Some health issues may increase the risk of falling. Have a vision screening once a year and update vision aids as needed. For more details about falls and vision loss, please read Falls and Vision Loss, which describes how changes in vision increase the risk of falls.
    • Check medications. Consider having a medication review conducted by a pharmacist or other healthcare provider.
      • Bring all medications, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements ― whether taken regularly or occasionally ― to a planned office visit or to the pharmacist for review.
      • Discuss any side effects such as feeling dizzy or sleepy.

    For more details, please read Preventing Medication – Related Falls to learn more about understanding drug side effects and fall risk.

    • Check for home safety. Most falls happen at home.
      • Keep floors clutter-free.
      • Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to secure them to the floor.
      • Add grab bars in the bathroom — next to and inside the tub and next to the toilet.
      • Have handrails and lights installed on all staircases.
      • Make sure the home has lots of light.

    For more details, read Home Modification, for a brief introduction to home modification, including a list of everyday situations that pose risks for falls.

    Below are some additional Fall Resources from the UC Davis Fall Prevention Center:

    With more than 10,000 older Americans turning 65 each day, the number of fall-related injuries and deaths are expected to surge unless preventive measures are taken.

    For those who live in Fairfax county, join Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services in recognizing National Fall Prevention Week. Click here for more details and a schedule of local events.

    When Taking Preventative Measures Isn’t Enough

    When taking preventative measures isn’t enough, assisted living or nursing home care may be needed for your loved one. Nursing homes in Washington, D.C., Fairfax, Virginia, and the rest of Northern Virginia can cost as much as $144,000 per year, while Fredericksburg, Virginia nursing homes and nursing homes in and the rest of Virginia can cost as much as $105,000 per year.

    Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting you or your loved ones from having to go broke to pay for nursing home care, while also helping ensure that you or your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation.

    Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888

    Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435

    Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041

    DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.