Falls can happen anytime, anywhere. Something as simple as an unsteady ladder or an uneven rug could have a disastrous impact on you or your loved one’s health. For the elderly, the risk increases significantly, citing more than one in three people (ages 65 years or older) experience a fall each year. (National Institute on Aging -NIA). Although the statistics can seem daunting at times, there are ways to prevent falls from happening in the future.
“Falls are a very frequent problem that happens as people get older,” said Dr. Jacob D. Almeida of TPMG Peninsula Internal and Geriatric Medicine, who sees patients on a regular basis for injuries at all different levels from falls. A fall could result in something minor, such as a sprain or strain, to something far more serious like a fracture or even an intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain that can lead to death). Falls can be extremely serious. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries. Fall injuries like hip fractures also increase your risk of dying within the next six months and oftentimes lead to a loss of independence.
There are many contributors to falls. One of the biggest factors which can increase someone’s risk is mobility problems. Many different conditions can prompt someone to lose their mobility. Those with chronic arthritis or chronic pain, for example, might see a decrease in balance, which may contribute to a fall. Neurological problems can increase your risk, including those who have suffered from a stroke or have chronic diseases, such as diabetes, which leads to nerve damage. Any condition that impacts your brain’s ability to understand your body’s orientation in space or time is dangerous. Those with sensory problems such as vision loss, cataracts, glaucoma are at an increased risk. Multiple medications or combination of medications may, also, affect your brain cognition and balance.
Another factor that can increase your risk of falls is the fear of falling itself. As people age, the fear of falls is common and it can even impair the way you walk. “Fear of falling” is partially to blame for the number of repeat falls. As a matter of fact, falling once doubles your chances of falling again, according to the CDC.
With so many different contributing factors, it can feel almost impossible to prevent falls; however, there are ways to keep you and your loved ones safe. First and foremost, make sure your home environment is secure. According to the NIA, six out of every 10 falls happen at home. Get rid of items that are easy to trip over, like lumpy rugs or shoes on the ground; add support bars and railings for stairs and bathroom areas, and keep all areas of your house well-lit. Physical assistance devices such as canes or walkers can be helpful, but take time to discuss assistance equipment with your physician to understand what is safe and appropriate for you.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so making sure balance and strength are optimized as much as possible is very important,” said Dr. Almeida. Exercising is important to maintain your mobility. Physical and occupational therapy programs and fitness routines are helpful for maintaining balance and strength which will help prevent falls. Tai Chi has proven effective for making your legs stronger and improving your balance. In addition to exercise, your doctor might recommend certain starting or stopping medications that could reduce your risk.
“As we age, it’s really important to be able to maintain the highest level of functioning as possible for as long as possible,” said Dr. Almeida. The fear of falls should not keep you from doing what you love. Discuss your options to reduce your fall risk with a TPMG physician today.
About Jacob Almeida, DO, CMD
Board certified in Internal Medicine and Geriatric Medicine, Dr. Jacob Almeida provides comprehensive primary care services to adults 18 years of age and older with a focus on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Dr. Almeida specializes in the care of older adults with complex medical problems and provides treatment and management of various conditions associated with aging. His medical interests include caring for seniors with complex disorders such as Alzheimer’s, the diagnosis and management of dementia, and successful aging.
Dr. Almeida has been practicing at TPMG Peninsula Internal and Geriatric Medicine since 2012.