Every year in America, one out of three people age 65 or older experiences a fall – and in Massachusetts, falls are the leading cause of injury death for this population. These are alarming statistics – but the personal toll of falls in older adults can be even more dramatic.
That’s because for those who survive a fall, serious injuries are frequently the result -- including hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries. For some, this will lead to restricted independence and a permanent decline in their quality of life.
Even in the face of these unfortunate facts, there’s a surprising level of misunderstanding (even within some medical circles) about older people and falling…..that it’s something to be expected, like the wrinkling of skin and graying hair. Take a look at the National Council on Aging (NCOA) publication “Debunking the Myths of Older Adult Falls” to read some of the interesting misconceptions and erroneous beliefs about falls.
The important thing to know is that falls are preventable, and an upcoming event at the Massachusetts State House is devoted to explaining how.
On September 24th at 10am, the Massachusetts Falls Prevention Coalition will host the sixth annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day. Five years ago, NCOA began encouraging states to observe the first day of fall in September, as the ideal time of year to promote public awareness about falls prevention. The Massachusetts Coalition has adopted this year’s NCOA theme of “Standing Together to Prevent Falls” to highlight the need for a united effort from health care providers, public health professionals, community-based organizations, legislators, caregivers and elders themselves in focusing on falls and identifying the most effective ways to prevent them.
We hope you can join us for this important event. But in the meantime, there are several simple lifestyle changes that older adults and their families can make to reduce the risk of falls:
1) Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your medications - some have negative side effects that can cause dizziness or alter balance and coordination;
2) Eat right – including lots of fruits and vegetables, and vitamin D supplements for bone strength);
3) Get regular vision exams - at least once a year because poor vision can increase your risk for falls;
4) Make your home safe - get rid of clutter, install handrails on both sides of stairwells, and remove throw rugs.
5) Stay physically active - your local Council on Aging may have additional resources and programs to help improve strength and balance, promote physical activity, and reduce a fear of falling such as A Matter of Balance.