NEWARK –The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services has designated Sept. 19-25 as “Fall Prevention Awareness Week,” and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBIMC) is hoping to increase awareness about the dangers of falls for the elderly and ways to prevent accidents. In New Jersey, 70 percent of adults age 65 and over seen in the emergency department for a fall were admitted to the hospital. Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The risk of falling increases with age and two-thirds of those who experience a fall will fall again within six months. Falls can lead to both moderate and severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can increase the risk of early death. “Among those aged 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injury death,” reports Eric J. Wasserman, MD, FACEP, Chairman of the Emergency Medicine Department at NBIMC. “They are also the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma and traumatic brain injuries. A fall can be life changing for an elderly person.” Falls in the elderly tend to occur for one of five reasons:
1. With age, a decrease in bone density through osteoporosis contributes to falls by making bones more porous, less resistant to stress, and more prone to fractures. Osteoporosis is a leading cause of fractures in older adults, especially among women. “Postmenopausal women need 1,500 mg of calcium daily, reports Barbara Mintz, MS, RD, Assistant Vice President of Wellness at NBIMC. “Calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, cheese, fish and shellfish, vegetables such as broccoli, soybeans, collards and turnip greens, and tofu.”
2. Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased strength, and loss of bone mass. “Many older adults enjoy exercise such as walking and swimming,” says Anup Dhage, PT, MS, physical therapist at NBIMC. “Older adults should engage in regular exercise designed to increase muscle and bone strength.”
3. Age-related vision diseases can increase the risk of falling. Cataracts and glaucoma alter older people’s depth perception and peripheral vision.
4. Sedatives, anti-depressants, and other medication can contribute to falls by reducing mental alertness, worsening balance.
5. One-third of all falls in the elderly involve environmental hazards in the home. Fear of falling and Falling can lead to depression, loss of mobility, and loss of functional independence. Yet falls are often preventable, with some planning and assessment. “The use of an integrated team approach is helpful in accessing the elderly person and eliminating the common risk factors for falls,” says Mr. Dhage.
The following are some suggestions from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services for preventing falls in the elderly:
- Exercise regularly to increase strength, flexibility and balance.
- Undertake daily activities in a safe manner, such as reaching and bending properly, taking time to recover balance.
- Have your eyes checked by a physician at least once a year.
- Clean eye glasses often to improve visibility.
- Use balance-aiding objects in the home (e.g., grab bars and handrails).
- Eat or drink sufficient calcium to reduce osteoporosis. Get sufficient vitamin D to enhance the absorption of calcium into the bloodstream.
- Wear the right footwear. The safest shoes fit your feet, have low heels, non-slip soles, and lace up or are secured with fabric fasteners.
- Make your home safer by removing fall hazards and improving lighting.
- Remove clutter like loose papers, boxes, wires, and phone cords from paths and stairways.
- Make lights brighter, especially in stairways. Consider a nightlight in the bath, bedroom, and hallways.
- Install bath grips or grab bars in your tub or shower.
- Use non-skid liners under rugs. Or, better still, remove all throw rugs.
- Ask the doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines, prescription and over-the-counter. Taking four or more medications increases your risk for a fall.
- Remove all out-of-date medications.
- Limit intake of alcohol as it may interact with medications