Have you ever tripped on the sidewalk and suddenly found yourself on the pavement? Have you ever been carrying the laundry and missed a step? Have you ever slipped getting in or out of the bathtub? Does walking on ice make you fearful? These are just a few examples of how we all can come into conflict with gravity.
Falls are a significant risk for all of us, but the risks, significance and consequences of falls increase with each year of life. For those older than 65, one out of three people will fall each year and that number increases to one out of two people older than 80, according to a 2019 article in the New York Times, “Every 19 minutes in this country, an older person dies from a fall.”
This is not to say that younger people don’t fall, but the prevalence and consequence of falls increases with age. As we age we begin to have deficits in our vision, hearing, muscle strength and balance, all factors that we use to maintain an upright position. We are more likely to be on medications that will potentially contribute to poor balance. Also, we may develop diseases that affect our balance such as heart disease, arthritis and nerve pain, to mention just a few.
At any point in our lives we may wear shoes that contribute to instability such as high heels, flip flops and slippers. Our houses may have trip hazards lke throw rugs and electrical cords across the floor. We may not have good lighting, and few of us install grab bars in our bathrooms until something happens that makes us need them. I fell because I was hurrying on ice and probably wearing shoes that were a poor choice. I only broke my wrist, but it could have been worse.
Falls are one of the most significant causes of death and injury in the elderly and have an enormous cost, according to an article, “In 2015 direct medical costs [related to falls] were estimated to exceed $50 billion dollars.”
Assessment of the contributors to falls can help people make good choices about home setup, shoe choices, assistive devices and strategies needed to offset risks from medications taken.
The Hub on Smith is creating a fall risk educational program. This program is designed to help you to learn the risk of falling and its significance. Self-assessment tools will be available to assess risk, providing information to take to a provider to discuss ways to mitigate identified risks. Discussion with a health care provider regarding steps to take to prevent falls is an important follow up.
Anyone can fall at any age and gravity is great when your feet are on the ground, but it is not your friend when you stumble, trip, lose your balance or slip.
Judith E. McDowell is a certified nurse practitioner. She has been a nurse since 1978 and has worked in ICU, labor and delivery, mother baby and as an instructor at Sheridan College.