Awareness of yourself, your surroundings can decrease risk of falling
When former President Jimmy Carter showed up at a Habitat for Humanity build in October with a black eye - the result of a fall at his home - it served as a reminder of the risk that increases for all of us as we age.
"You lose muscle tone and, if you move quickly, your balance isn't as good," said Carol Perry, RN, Chief Nursing Officer at Stormont Vail in Topeka. "Your blood pressure can go from low to high (causing dizziness). That's why we always teach patients don't have sudden moves, sit on the side of the bed, or sit in your chair and move to the end and get put slowly."
The Centers for Disease Control says falls are the leading cause of fatal injury among older adults, claiming a life every 19 minutes. Their figures also show the nation's emergency rooms treat more than 2.8 million fall-related injuries each year.
The process of aging that makes us more prone to falls - also makes us prone to more serious complications.
"As you age, the other co-morbidities, or other things that you're trying to manage, can impact the healing process," Perry said. "Your bones are thinner, so you can break a bone easier as you get older. You can bruise a lot easier - and that's internal bleeding and external bleeding."
For President Carter, it meant surgery to relieve pressure from bleeding on his brain after a second fall.
The first step in prevention is to take note of your body's changes.
"Stop, think, and move slowly," Perry said.
Also, take note of your environment. You can find a checklist to review the potential fall risk hazards in your home
"In your own home, taking up rugs that will move if you step on them just right; keeping an open walkway so you're not going to trip up on things. Grab bars - not just for the bathroom and the stool, but your garage door - put them at every door that you need to step in to have something to hang onto," Perry suggested.
Assistive devices can be a good preventative tool. Even if you're fine during the day, a cane or walker might help at night or other times when you're more tired.
Plus, take a page from the former President, and keep active!
"Going to exercise classes to really focus on your muscle strength (is good)," Perry said. "Drinking lots of water, eating healthy, and getting good sleep - those aren't just for young people, those are for all of us at any age."
Perry says Stormont Vail does a fall risk evaluation for every patient. She said being in a strange environment - like a hospital - can increase the risk of an accident.