It's epidemic . . .

The incidence of falling in the aging population has risen alarmingly, with increased need for emergency and acute care, and often with significant long-term implications. This does not mean that having a fall is inevitable, but rather it reminds us to be mindful of risks, circumstances, and how these things may apply to one's circumstances.

Why is this of concern to the extent of being called an epidemic? One potential result of a fall is fracture of bone(s). Fractures often require lengthy healing time with limited mobility; limited mobility can result in blood clots, most often in the leg. Clots become of concern because when they break loose, the result may be heart attack or stroke. In addition to immobility from fractures, the healing time often involves limitations in self-care in normal daily living. Another result of falls can be internal bleeding, commonly seen in the brain; a slowly leaking brain injury may cause symptoms some weeks after a fall. A fall that does not cause any of these results may still change strength and flexibility, limit independence, and increase likelihood of recurrent falls.

There are those persons who have fallen, even to the extent of “head over heels” falling down a long flight of stairs, and stated boldly “I am perfectly fine, didn't hurt a thing, I don't need to go to the doctor.” More often than not, that individual will begin feeling aches and pains several days after such a fall; the pain may increase to the extent that a visit to the clinic is in order. . . and it is at that point xrays are finally done, to rule out or to rule in, fractures, even 'hairline' fractures. It is to the person's benefit to visit an MD soon after a fall to make sure nothing is seriously injured. But certainly emergency care is needed if/when there is an obviously-distorted arm or leg, or if one is unable to walk or bear weight. Bones become brittle with age, with the spine being a likely location for injuries from falls, and a spinal exam can be of great significance. Delayed treatment can have permanent consequences.

The causes of falls can be attributed to change in balance making it challenging to walk safely, certain medications may cause instability with walking or general dizziness, visual changes especially a change in accuity of depth perception, and unsafe footwear. It's worth considering alternatives to minimize the risks.

Consider these adaptations that may lessen the chance of falling:

  • Use handrails on all stairs; install handrails if they are not currently in place.
  • Use night lights in bedroom, hallway, bathrooms.
  • Remove all scatter rugs permanently.
  • Wear supportive footwear.
  • Use grab-bars in the bathroom.
  • Be especially cautious getting in and out of bathtub or shower.
  • Keep cellphone within arm's reach at all times; have several extensions in your home if you use a landline.
  • Consider a personal alert alarm system, such as the one advertized as “I've fallen and I can't get up;” some of those systems include GPS technology.It's epidemic . . .