Though Falls Prevention Awareness Day isn’t until Sept. 22 this year, preventing falls is important every day, especially with the upcoming month of May being Older Americans Month. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults age 65 and older in the United States. They account for more than 3 million emergency department visits, 900,000 hospitalizations and about 30,000 deaths each year. One in three adults over age 65 takes a serious tumble each year (Prevention). Even more troubling, death rates from falls increased by more than 30% (from 47 to 62 per 100,000 people) between 2007 and 2016. They are also the leading cause of traumatic brain injury, and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling (Everyday Medical). These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities or live on their own.
The Impact of Falling
Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker, which then increases their chances of falling.
The economic impact of fall injuries and deaths is substantial, accounting for nearly $50 billion in direct medical costs each year. Fall injuries are among the 20 most expensive medical conditions, and government-funded programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, finance about 75% of these costs. As the American population continues to age, with 10,000 people in the United States turning 65 every day, we could expect to see 49 million falls, 12 million fall injuries and almost 60,000 fall-related deaths per year by 2030 (AARP).
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Thousand Pounds Of Cure
Falls are not an inevitable part of aging. There are many resources and routines available to help keep older adults safe and independent longer. Preventing and reducing falls lowers healthcare spending, improves health and fosters independence. Simply put, the best way to reduce falls is to continually maintain and even strengthen one’s balance.
Balance is a crucial survival skill, but it's also perishable. The muscles we use to stand tall weaken ever so gradually after we hit 30. How well we maintain our balance in midlife can protect us as we grow older. The best ways to maintain and build up your balance are;
- Check Eyesight Annually – As we age our vision deteriorates. It is important to make sure you have corrective glasses if they are needed. Otherwise without proper vision, it may throw off one’s sense of balance.
- Stand on One Leg – It is important to help strengthen the core and lower-body muscles that keep you steady on your feet. You can begin with this exercise for 5–10 seconds per leg and build from there. Once you can hold this pose for 30 seconds on each side, you can enhance the exercise by (i) holding weights, (ii) closing your eyes or (iii) standing on less stable surfaces like a couch cushion.
- Take an Exercise Class - Tai Chi practitioners are in the 90th percentile of the American Fitness Standards and a study found that people participating in Tai Chi were less likely to fall than those who took part in basic stretching programs or made other lifestyle changes. Yoga also works as studies have shown women 65 and older who took twice-weekly yoga classes for 9 weeks, increased ankle flexibility and were more confident when walking (Prevention).
- Sleep Tight – Sleep deprivation can slow reaction time and in turn have a direct correlation to the ability to prevent, or “catch yourself” from falling. The ideal amount of sleep is usually around 7+ hours per night.
- Make Your Home Safer – A safer home means to generally enhance the functionality of the living environment. This includes; (i) install hand rails where support may be needed, (ii) make sure there is nothing loose or slippery on the floor (i.e. area rugs), that can cause tripping and (iii) have furniture arranged to maximize walking space for optimal mobility.
Always Wear Proper Foot Gear
Wearing appropriate footwear can help improve balance, especially in older people who may struggle with mobility and balance issues. This is a 24 hour / 7 day rule, whether out running errands or at home cooking dinner. The right footwear can support and strengthen your foot and arch, in turn enhancing overall balance and mobility.
When selecting a shoe to improve balance, always press on both sides of the heel area to ensure the heel is stiff and won't collapse. Also, bend the shoe to check for toe flexibility. The shoe shouldn't bend too much in the toe box area, but it shouldn't be too stiff and inflexible either. Finally, try the twist test to ensure it doesn’t twist in the middle.
Natural aging and health changes can cause foot size to change, so it’s important to have your feet professionally measured every time you purchase shoes. Measure both feet—late in the day—and shop for the larger foot. Another good tip is to bring the type of socks you plan to wear and walk around with them in the shoes before purchasing.
Shoes should feel comfortable and supportive right away. If they don't, breaking them in won't improve things. Often shoes can be complimented with the used of orthotic inserts to provide additional support and mobility to the foot, as well as additional comfort the shoe may lack. Common indications that foot orthotics are necessary for balance include: muscle weakness, fallen arches, ataxia, gait abnormality, joint instability, difficulty walking, peripheral neuropathy, limb pain, arthropathy and hemiplegia. Using a good supportive orthotic insert for these conditions will contribute to helping reduce the risk of falls. Podiatry Today.