With dwindling federal and state budgets, rising health care expenditures, and politicians' calls for fiscal savings, you need to know that the cost of older adults' fall injuries is expected to reach $55 billion by the year 2020. Whether you trip over a tree root while jogging and sprain your wrist or your aging mother breaks her hip when she slips in the bathroom, falls among adults are a serious health problem. Fall related injuries kill approximately 20,000 older adults age 65+ each year, and many independent older people who fall never walk again and/or end up living the rest of their lives in nursing homes. The good news is that many falls and fall related injuries are preventable. In recent years, public health advocates and aging organizations have been trying to get the word out.
The news is spreading. Fall Prevention Awareness Day (FPAD) is September 23--the first day of autumn. Forty-three states will be participating in FPAD activities this year, an increase from 34 states in 2010. Furthermore, many cities and counties observe a whole week of Fall Prevention Awareness, between September 19-24. Activities include educational programs, neighborhood sidewalk audits, medication management programs, home safety checks, walking campaigns, and city council proclamations.
People who are most at risk of falls are frail elderly adults with vision problems, lower limb weakness, and balance and/or mobility issues. However, other factors that put people at risk for falls include wearing bifocals, taking several medications, improper footwear, memory problems, a cluttered house, lack of stair railings and grab bars, and poorly lit environments. Think you are too young to suffer from a fall? Public health experts and research scientists have found that adult ages 45+ may not fall inside their houses as often as their aging parents, but they are at risk of falling outdoors, especially while exercising and doing physically demanding work around the home.
Interestingly, Active Aging Week is also this month--September 25 through October 1. It is extremely important for middle aged and older people to improve their overall health and reduce their fall risk by increasing their strength, balance, and endurance with ongoing physical activities such as walking, running, tai chi, and monitored weight training. Participating in some of these activities could increase the occurrence of falls, especially if environmental hazards get in the way. Participating in outdoor physical activity with a friend or family member is one step towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing falls. Your partner can provide motivation as well as alert you to out cracked sidewalks, tree roots, broken curbs, fallen leaves, or other seasonal tree debris.
For yourself or your aging parents, ways to prevent falls inside the home include reducing clutter, increasing lighting, removing area rugs and carpet bulges, and installing grab bars and non-slip surfaces in bathrooms--around the toilet, sink, and bathtub or shower. Never again use a toilet paper holder, soap dish, or towel bar to steady yourself as you maneuver around the bathroom. Indoor and outdoor stairs need at least one handle or railing, preferably two. Many people fall moving in and out of their front door, as thresholds can be awkward. Install a handle to aid you as you step inside. Be sure to have a light switch or motion sensitive activator at every entry to a room.
Another common hazard inside the home is a small pet. Putting a bell on the collar of a cat or small dog can alert you or your aging parent that the animal is underfoot. Larger dogs are typically hazards outside of the home, where many people are knocked over or fall when walking or jogging with their canine companion.
The change in season that September 23 brings offers an opportune time to examine your own and your aging parents' physical activity levels, fall risk factors, and environmental hazards. Outdoor threats, which more often impact middle aged and younger seniors change with the seasons and depend on geographical location. Fall Prevention Awareness Day also offers individuals a chance to connect their own lives and lifestyles to policy issues facing our nation. As Baby Boomers age, the fiscal impact of falls will continue to rise without intentional efforts to reduce fall risk and fall related injuries. Awareness and education are the first steps and will have a lasting impact.