Slipping or tripping can cause anyone to be off balance and fall down. We’ve all seen the “caution wet floor” signs designed to warn us about potential hazards. Wearing the wrong shoes, walking on uneven ground or in the dark can also cause someone to stumble and fall. Sometimes falls happen when reaching up high to access items, with or without a ladder, because the motion changes your center of gravity. Similarly, reaching away from your body can also cause a loss of balance and result in a fall.
Falling down can be a very scary experience for both children and adults. It’s a risk everyone encounters in the course of a normal day. Falling is the most common reason for injuries that resulted in a visit to the emergency room. Among older adults, falls occur more than 30 million times each year and result in about 30,000 deaths.
Falling is directly related to a person’s strength and ability to balance. If you’ve got both, you can usually keep yourself from falling; you’ll just stumble. But if you’re challenged in either area, you’ll find yourself on the ground.
There are three basic reasons people will fall:
Health related – If someone has balance problems, vision problems, or chronic illness they are at greater risk of falling. Sometimes medication can cause a balance issue.
Environmentally related – Hazards around the home like a loose rug or icy sidewalks outside cause many falls. High heels also pose a risk. And believe it or not, assistive devices like walkers and canes, when used improperly can cause someone to fall.
Sudden triggers – These are events that decrease balance or strength without warning. Like a sudden jerk of a dog pulling on a leash or a sudden drop in blood sugar. Most people aren’t expecting the sudden change so they are thrown off balance and find themselves on the ground.
In older people, most falls are multifactorial. A combination of things makes them more at risk of taking a tumble. For example, tripping on loose carpet, which challenges their ability to hold their balance, then results in falling to the floor. Alternatively, they may think they can walk the short distance to the door from the chair, so they leave the walker behind and find themselves without the strength to make the trek. The lack of strength, balance and an environmental trigger can be a dangerous combination for a senior.
Why is falling so dangerous?
As they say, it’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the landing. Depending on how you land and on what surface, falls can cause sprains, broken bones and even head injuries resulting in a concussion or brain bleed. One out of every five falls causes an injury serious enough to require medical treatment. In fact, 95% of all hip fractures are caused by falling, which is responsible for the hospitalization of over 300,000 adults.
Injuries from falling make it difficult for a person to get around and manage their everyday activities. People who experience a traumatic fall will naturally become afraid of falling again. This fear may cause a person to limit their activities to those they feel are “safe.” Unfortunately, when someone is less active, they become weaker and that increases the chances for falling. So it’s important to remain active and exercise regularly. This will not only build your stamina and strength, it will also improve your balance and ability to recover when you stumble instead of falling.
How to prevent falls
You can work to prevent some of the risks of falling by looking around your home or work to identify environmental risks. Use ice melt on days when the walks may become slick, be sure to check flooring for any loose tiles or carpet, and use bath mats in the shower.
For older people, most of the fall risks are health-based. If you’re caring for an older friend or relative, help them avoid falling by developing their strength with exercises. Talk to their physicians about the potential side effects of any medication that might contribute to their risk of falling. And be sure to have their vision checked annually, more often if recommended.
While you might not be able to prevent every type of fall, by being aware of the risk of falling, you can practice fall prevention. Whether in your home, office, or outside, watch for hazards that can trip you up and take the extra time to make those repairs or clean up to avoid mishaps.