Fall Prevention: Know Your Risk to Lower the Risk

The risk of falling increases as we age. The numbers tell the story. Every year, one in three Americans over age 65 takes a fall. Many falls turn out to be harmless. But many are serious, leading to injury, hospitalization and incapacity. And every year 10,000 seniors will receive fatal injuries from falling.

Along with physical consequences, there are emotional and psychological costs associated with falls. Seniors who experience a fall often feel discouraged and embarrassed. They wonder, “Will I fall again?” And fear of falling may lead them to limit activity rather than risk another fall.

But experts tell us that fear of falling may increase the risk. The problem comes when a person retreats from activity, taking a “safe at any cost” approach. That’s when fear of falling can trap a person in a cycle that looks something like this:

You experience a fall … so you reduce your level of physical activity … which reduces reserves of energy, muscle tone and alertness … and increases the risk that you will fall again.

This cycle continues unless we do something to interrupt it. Seniors who are experiencing fear of falling should share their concerns with their healthcare provider.

Overcoming fear doesn’t mean overconfidence.

Gerontologists have long known that the fear of falling can be debilitating. But a study published in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal also looks at the other side of the story, suggesting that in some cases, seniors may actually underestimate their risk, and have overconfidence in their ability to avoid falling.

In both situations, knowing the risk is key. The healthcare provider can perform a fall risk assessment. That’s the first step. The second step is to be proactive. Older adults can take a fall prevention class that teaches how to move around more safely and confidently, and how to identify hazards in the environment that could trip them up.

Fight fear with information. Not all falls can be prevented. No matter what our age, living an active life means taking some risks. But knowing the risk and taking steps to lower it is the key to living an active and safe lifestyle. It is a challenge worth accepting.

Top Five Ways to Reduce the Risk of Falls

  1. Ask your healthcare provider for a fall risk assessment
  2. Begin an exercise program that includes aerobic, strengthening, flexibility and balance promoting activities.
  3. Have your eyes checked.
  4. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to review your medications.
  5. Inspect your home for hazards that could trip you up.

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