Among the concerns of aging, injuries from a fall are a worry for many. Each year, more than 300,000 people in the United States – most commonly those who are older than 65, usually as a result of falling – fracture a hip, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. For some people, the result is calamitous, as surgery and rehabilitation are often needed.
Older people are at higher risk of falling and higher risk of sustaining a serious injury as a result. “A lot of things can change as we age that can impact our risk for falls,” says Dena Rennard, a physical therapist with the Washington University Program in Physical Therapy. “This can include, but is not limited to, changes in balance, weakness, worsening eyesight, decreased activity levels, medications, home safety or changes in cognition.”
Awareness of one’s risk is key, she adds, and the best way to understand personal risk is by scheduling a falls-risk assessment with a physical therapist.
“A one-on-one appointment will allow us to complete a comprehensive assessment to determine what is putting you at risk for falls,” Rennard says. “A physical therapist can also determine if an assistive device would reduce your risk of falls.”
Older adults benefit from an annual assessment to track any changes in mobility and balance. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers an online falls-risk assessment with a dozen questions and explanations of what individual answers indicate about risk. The CDC also has an online home fall-prevention checklist with suggestions for fall-proofing, such as removing throw rugs, clearing any clutter from the floor, ensuring handrails on stairs are sturdy and installing grab bars in the tub and shower.
“It is also important to talk to your doctor about how your medications may impact your risk of falls, and you should have regular eye exams to assess your vision,” Rennard adds.
If you do find yourself falling, Rennard advises protecting your head and trying to shift your weight to avoid sharp objects or corners. If you can, direct your body toward dirt, grass or a soft surface. “If you are having frequent falls or are concerned about falling, you should see a physical therapist,” she urges. “The No. 1 thing to do would be to prevent falls as much as possible.”
Washington University Program in Physical Therapy, multiple locations, 314-286-1940, pt.wustl.edu/patient-care
CDC Falls Risk Assessment, cdc.gov/steadi/pdf/steadi-brochure-stayindependent-508.pdf
CDC Home Fall Prevention, cdc.gov/steadi/pdf/check_for_safety_brochure-a.pdf