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Falls are the leading cause of accidental injury, admission to the hospital, and death. One out of five falls cause serious injury such as broken bones and even traumatic brain injury. And while falls are more prevalent in older adults, anyone suffering a fall can experience long-term health effects that impact their overall quality of life. In recent years, deaths from falls are on the rise.
A number of risk factors contribute to falling, including chronic conditions such as diabetes, stroke or arthritis; difficulty with walking and problems with balance; use of medicines; vision problems; and foot pain. Even home hazards like broken or uneven steps, throw rugs, and a lack of handrails along the stairs or in the bathroom can cause falls.
Luckily, there are many steps we can take to help prevent falls. To reduce your risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest following these tips: Ask your doctor questions If you’ve fallen before, provide your doctor with details, including when, where and how you fell. With this information, your doctor can identify specific fall-prevention strategies. Proactively talking to your doctor about problems and asking the right questions is part of being your own health care advocate, which will help you get the most out of your relationship with your doctor.
Keep your doctor updated Notify your doctor of all the medications you take, including prescription and over- the-counter medicines. Your doctor can review for side effects that may increase your risk of falling.
Receive an annual eye exam Maintain your vision and use an up-to- date eyeglasses prescription. Stay active Remaining active will boost your overall strength and balance. Walking and water workouts improve coordination and flexibility. Light weight-bearing exercises can also increase bone density, making falls less devastating as you age.
Remove hazards from your home Get rid of trip and fall hazards in your home. You can do this by removing items from walkways, moving furniture from high-traffic areas, repairing floorboards and carpeting, and using non-stick mats in your bathtub or shower.
Be a partner with the healthcare team to prevent falls If you or a loved one is in the hospital, talk to the doctor, nurse and other care team member to learn how to prevent falling while at the hospital and when you come home. After a hospital stay, people are often not as strong as they were before they were hospitalized. Extra care and attention must be taken to make sure they do not fall when returning home and that fall hazards in the home are removed.
In this together! It’s everyone’s responsibility to be sure those most susceptible to falls are kept safe.
Healthcare professionals, family members and those in the community can each play an important role in limiting fall risk in their environments.
Jason Custer, MD is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Medical Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center Downtown Campus. He also leads efforts in patient safety and quality for UMMC. To learn more visit www.umm.edu