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We all know someone who has had a fall. Many older adults may think it won't happen to them, but falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older adults. About one in three older adults fall every year, with many falls causing hip fractures, other broken bones and brain injuries.
The good news is that we know what causes falls and what works to prevent them. The National Safety Council is marking June as National Safety Month and starting off its campaign with fall awareness as it aims to eliminate preventable deaths.
At the National Council on Aging, we want to share with caregivers, family members, health care providers and older adults themselves our six steps to prevent a fall:
1. Bust the myths about falling.
Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won't happen to them or they won't get hurt — even if they've already fallen in the past. A good way to start the conversation is by sharing NCOA's Debunking the Myths of Older Adults Falls. If your older family members have questions or concerns, suggest they contact their health care provider who can evaluate their risk and suggest ways to help.
2. Do a walk-through home safety assessment.
More than 75% of falls take place inside or in close proximity to the home, but your home doesn't have to be an obstacle course of potential falls. Here are some simple and quick changes will easily help reduce the risk of falling:
Many more tips on home safety to prevent falls are described here.
3. Discuss current health conditions.
Is your older loved one experiencing new or different symptoms, such as pain and swelling? Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications or experiencing side effects? Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily?
All of these health factors could lead to a fall, so make sure they are taking advantage of all the preventive benefits now offered under Medicare, such as the annual wellness visit. Encourage them to speak openly with their doctor about all changes in their health.
4. Get an eye checkup.
If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and get an eye exam at least yearly. Remember that bifocals and progressive lenses can be hazardous on stairs and when going from bright sun into darkened buildings. For those already struggling with low vision, consult with a low-vision specialist.
5. Find a proven balance and exercise program.
There are many programs that are proven to reduce falls, falls risk factors and fear of falling. They are fun and effective – and they can help older adults stay safe, independent and active. Community programs include A Matter of Balance, Stepping On and Tai Chi. Contact your area Agency on Aging to see what's available in your community.
6. Review medications
If your older loved ones are having a hard time keeping track of medicine or are experiencing side effects, encourage them to talk to their doctor or pharmacist. Have medications reviewed each time they get a new prescription, as drug interactions can lead to falls. Also, beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids, including painkillers with "PM" in their names. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness.
Let's all stand up to falls by taking these simple steps to help ourselves and others at risk to prevent falls and injuries.