A fall can change your life forever
It’s early morning at Emerald Physicians in Hyannis and Dan Arnold, MD’s first two patients have something in common. They are victims of falls – one who suffered dizziness from a medication, the other who took a tumble on the ice. Each hit their head.
“Falls are a tremendous risk for millions of people,” said Dr. Arnold. “But, that risk remains under the radar for most people, especially those 65 years and older.’
One Out of Five Falls Is Serious
May is National Trauma Awareness Month and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that:
- One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.
- Each year, 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
- More than 700,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
- Each year, at least 250,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
- More than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
Head injuries from falls are particularly dangerous for older people who are on certain medications, especially blood thinners, said Dr. Arnold.
“An older person who falls and hits his or her head should see their doctor right away to be sure they don’t have a brain injury,” he cautioned.
And every fall that requires hospitalization becomes not only a physical crisis, but often a financial one.
The CDC reports that injuries from falls are among the 20 most expensive medical conditions, with the average hospital cost reaching $35,000, That translates, adjusted for inflation, to $34 billion annually nationwide, with hospital costs accounting for two-thirds of that total.
Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling again. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this ironically increases their chances of falling.
So What Can You Do to Prevent a Fall?
Begin with understanding your risk factors. According to the CDC, those most prone to fall, at any age, may suffer from:
- Lower body weakness
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Difficulties with walking and balance
- Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants. Even some over-the-counter medicines can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet.
- Vision problems
- Foot pain or poor footwear
Falls can be prevented, said Dr. Arnold. He recommends:
- Exercising, especially to strengthen your core muscles.
- Do balancing exercises, especially yoga and tai chi.
- Watch your medications.
“Many of the most serious falls occur in the middle of the night when people get up from bed to go to the bathroom. Especially if they are taking certain medications,” Dr. Arnold said.
He recommends that anyone who gets up do so slowly. “Sit up on the edge of your bed and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ before getting up,” he suggested.
Know How Your Medications Affect You
When it comes to medications, it is critical to understand not only the side effects of a single prescription, but what happens when you take multiple ones. You are more likely to fall if you take medications that can:
- Lower blood pressure. These include diuretics, ACE inhibitors and some antidepressants.
- Cause drowsiness and increase reflex time. These include sleeping tablets and some antidepressants.
- Create acute confusion. These include anti-Parkinson drugs.
- Slow your heart rate. These include beta blockers, digoxin and certain calcium antagonists
- Cause low blood sugar. These include diabetic drugs and insulin
Poor eyesight can also cause you to fall.
Have it checked by an eye doctor at least once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses if needed, the CDC recommends.
Don’t just work on the body, work on the environment as well, to avoid falls.
The CDC recommends that you conduct a comprehensive assessment of your home’s safety:
- Get rid of things you could trip over.
- Add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet.
- Put railings on both sides of stairs.
- Make sure your home has lots of light
Note: As of 5/1/2019, Emerald Physicians joined Medical Affiliates of Cape Cod (MACC), a division of primary and specialty care physicians from Cape Cod Healthcare.