Manage Health Conditions to Reduce the Risk of Falls
September 22, 2020 is Falls Prevention Awareness Day. Each year—on the first day of fall, appropriately enough—experts call attention to the serious problem of fall injuries among older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people older than 65 will suffer a fall each year, and many of these falls can result in hip fractures, head injuries, the loss of independence and death.
You have probably heard of the basic steps we can take to reduce the risk of falls. First, check out your home environment. Remove fall hazards, and make modifications to your living space, such as grab bars and improved lighting. Be sure to get plenty of exercise. Physical activity strengthens our muscles and improves flexibility and balance. And talk to your doctor about the medications you take—some can cause dangerous side effects such as dizziness and confusion. Doctor visits today look a little different, but are still very important.
Sometimes forgotten in our “fall prevention checklist” is to manage health conditions that raise the risk of falling. Here are some health problems that could raise our fall risk—including a few you might not be aware of!
Osteoporosis. Weak bones make it more likely that a senior will be injured during a fall, and changes in balance and walking caused by the disease also make a fall more likely.
Arthritis. Pain, stiffness and decreased function mean that people with arthritis are 53% more likely to fall, according to the Arthritis Association.
Parkinson’s disease. Changes to body movements and mental confusion caused by this condition can cause a person to fall.
Vision problems. Cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and other eye conditions all reduce the amount of information we receive about the environment in which we’re moving around.
Hearing loss. We receive a lot of environmental cues from our ears, too! Hearing loss is common in our later years, but hearing aids can help—and fall prevention should be yet another motivating force to get them and wear them.
Memory loss. People with Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions are at higher risk of falls due to confusion, distraction, and changes in the senses.
Balance disorders. Some falls are caused by problems with the vestibular system, located in our inner ear, which is important for our sense of balance.
Diabetes. Diabetic eye disease and nerve damage to the feet reduce our ability to get around safely. And it’s also very important to control blood sugar safely—if it drops too low, that can cause wooziness.
Congestive heart failure. Heart failure makes it harder for the heart to pump enough blood throughout the body, leading to weakness, dizziness, and swelling of the legs and feet, all of which make it harder to walk.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Lung disease makes it harder to breathe, which makes walking harder and is likely to cause dizziness.
Anemia. When the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells, the resulting oxygen shortage can cause fatigue, lightheadedness and weakness.
Dehydration. If we don’t consume enough fluids, we might experience hypotension—a drop in blood pressure that can cause dizziness and even fainting.
Sleep problems. Poor quality sleep can make us less attentive during the day. And it’s worth noting that sleeping pills are one of the top medication culprits that raise the fall risk.
Make fall prevention a topic of conversation at your next doctor visit—no matter what health conditions you are living with. Talk about the medications you take. And if you’ve fallen, tell the doctor. Preventing falls is yet another motivation for following the doctor’s recommendations carefully!
The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your health care provider. Talk to the doctor about ways managing your health conditions can reduce your risk of falling