Falls are about more than bumps and bruises. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for the elderly. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
Even without serious injury, falls can have a big impact on your quality of life. A growing number of older adults fear falling because of the serious repercussions. As a result, seniors limit their activities and social engagements unnecessarily. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness.
But falling is far from inevitable. The truth is, most falls can be prevented – and you have the power to reduce your risk. Exercising, managing your medications, having your vision checked, and making your living environment safer are all steps you can take to prevent falls.
We’re breaking down the myths vs. reality of elderly fall risks to give you the information you need to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Myth 1: Falling happens to other people, not to me.
Reality: Many people think, “It won’t happen to me.” But the truth is everyone is at risk. One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year in the US. No one is exempt, but you can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Myth 2: Falling is something normal that happens as you get older.
Reality: Falling is definitely more common for the elderly, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. Strength and balance exercises, managing your medications, having your vision checked and making your living environment safer are all steps you can take to reduce elderly fall risks.
Myth 3: If I limit my activity, I won’t fall.
Reality: Some people believe that the best way to prevent falls is to stay at home and limit activity. The truth is, limiting activity actually makes you more susceptible to falling. Regular physical activities will actually help you maintain your strength, which can prevent a fall. If you are able to stay independent, your strength and range of motion benefit from remaining active. Social activities are also good for your overall health.
Myth 4: As long as I stay at home, I can avoid falling.
Reality: Most falls take place at home. This is because when we are comfortable in our environment, we take less precautions. Things like clutter, throw rugs, and poor lighting have never caused problems before but now they are culprits of high elderly fall risks. Evaluating your environment and making simple home modifications, such as adding grab bars in the bathroom, a second handrail on stairs, and non-slip paint on outdoor steps and protect you while you’re at home.
Myth 5: Muscle strength and flexibility can’t be regained.
Reality: While we do lose muscle as we age, exercise can partially restore strength and flexibility. It’s never too late to start an exercise program. Even if you’ve been a “couch potato” your whole life, becoming active now will benefit you in many ways – including protection from elderly fall risks.
Myth 6: Taking medication doesn’t increase my risk of falling.
Reality: Any medication can significantly increase your risk of falling. Medication affects people in many different ways. You may be affected by your medication today and not tomorrow. Some medications may make you dizzy or sleepy. Be careful when starting a new medication. Always talk to your health care provider about potential side effects or interactions of your medications.
Myth 7: I don’t need to get my vision checked every year.
Reality: Aging is associated with some forms of vision loss that increases the risk of falling and injury. People with vision problems are more than twice as likely to fall as those without visual impairment. Have your eyes checked at least once a year and update your eyeglasses. For those with low vision, there are programs and assistive devices that can help. Ask your optometrist for a referral.
Myth 8: Using a walker or cane will just make me dependent on them.
Reality: Walking aids are very important in helping many older adults maintain or improve their mobility. However, make sure you use these devices safely. Have a physical therapist fit the walk or cane to you and instruct you in its safe use. Evaluate the floors, rugs, carpet, cords, etc. in your home to ensure you can walk safely with (or without) assistance.
Myth 9: I don’t want to alarm my family, and I want to keep my independence.
Reality: Fall prevention is a team effort. Bring it up with your doctor, family, and anyone else who is in a position to help. Especially if you’re concerned about your own safety, talk to your family about the issue and work together to remedy the situation as much as possible. They want to help you maintain your mobility and reduce elderly fall risks.
Myth 10: I don’t need to talk to my parent, spouse, or other older adult if I’m concerned about their risk of falling. It will hurt their feelings, and it’s none of my business.
Reality: Let them know about your concerns and offer support to help them maintain the highest degree of independence possible. There are many things you can do, including removing hazards in the home, finding a fall prevention program in the community, or setting up a vision exam.
Don’t Let The Fear Of Falling Run Your Life
The National Council on Aging leads the National Falls Prevention Resource Center, to support awareness and education about falls across the nation. The Falls Free Initiative is a national effort to address the growing issue of elderly fall risks and fall-related injuries and deaths. They offer a myriad of tools, best practices and resource materials to help educate and keep older adults safe and active. More information on the council and their initiative can be found at www.ncoa.org.