Seniors & Aging

Falls are the No. 1 cause for injury or death for seniors. Here’s how to prevent them

Sylvie De Rham Tortorelli, physical therapist, demonstrates fall prevention exercises with her former patient Jo Wagner on Friday, May 25, in Bellingham.
Sylvie De Rham Tortorelli, physical therapist, demonstrates fall prevention exercises with her former patient Jo Wagner on Friday, May 25, in Bellingham. evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com

Every second of every day in the United States, an older adult falls, making falls the No. 1 cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2014, alone, older Americans experienced 29 million falls causing seven million injuries and costing an estimated $31 billion in annual Medicare costs, according to a report published by the CDC.

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

Reduced muscle strength, increased inactivity, more severe chronic health conditions and increased use of prescription medications are risk factors for falls among older Americans.

Healthcare providers can make fall prevention a routine part of care in their practice, and older adults can take steps to protect themselves.

Sylvie de Rham Tortorelli, a physical therapist at the Grabow Therapy & Wellness Center, offers this perspective:

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Sylvie De Rham Tortorelli, physical therapist, demonstrates fall prevention exercises with her former patient Jo Wagner on Friday, May 25, in Bellingham. Evan Abell evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com

Question: How many seniors fall each year?

Answer: More than 30 percent of people over 65 who live in the community fall each year in the United States. The number increases to 50 percent for those over 80. Two-thirds of those who fall will fall again within six months. Twenty to 30 percent of those who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries making it difficult to get around or continue to live independently, which increases the risk of early death.

In 2009, 2 million older adults, those 65 and older, were treated in emergency rooms for falls. In 2007, 18,334 older adults died from injuries related to falls.

Q: What can happen when a senior falls?

A: In short, there could be a loss of mobility and independence, increased mortality or death.

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Sylvie De Rham Tortorelli, physical therapist, demonstrates fall prevention exercises with her former patient Jo Wagner on Friday, May 25, in Bellingham. Evan Abell evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com

Q: What can cause a person to fall?

A: Deteriorations in balance and strength, dizziness and light-headedness, unsafe behaviors.

Q: How can a senior prevent falling?

A: Take preventions in the home. Remove throw rugs, install grab bars and good lighting inside and outside of the home and consistently work on balance and strength training. Have your vision checked once a year and update your glasses as needed. See if taking vitamin D supplements for improved bone, muscle and nerve health is right for you.

Q: Are there any conditions that cause one senior to fall over another?

A: One senior might be more deconditioned than another. Weaker seniors have a higher likelihood of falls. Those with balance issues that may be related to underlying sensory impairments, such as diabetic neuropathy, are at higher risk for falls. One might have vision problems, foot pain or poor footwear.

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Sylvie De Rham Tortorelli, physical therapist, demonstrates fall prevention exercises with her former patient Jo Wagner on Friday, May 25, in Bellingham. Evan Abell evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com

Q: Are there core exercises that can help prevent a person from falling?

A: Yes, completing consistent strength and balance training. Common activities like walking and gardening are not enough. Do exercises that make your legs stronger and improve your balance. Tai Chi is highly recommended by the CDC.

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