Your Health: Don't be a fall guy
by Dr. Terry Hollenbeck/Your Health
Aug 07, 2009 | 947 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency-room visits for those older than 65. The risk of falling increases with age and is greater for women than men. Falls are also the leading cause of death from injury among the elderly. Almost 10,000 deaths in older Americans are associated with falls every year.

The most significant consequence of falling is the loss of independence. After a serious fall, an elderly person often suffers a decline in normal daily living and is often permanently placed in an assisted living facility or in a nursing home.

Hip fractures are a frequent consequence of falls and occur to more than 250,000 elderly people at a health care cost of about $10 billion each year. Twenty-five percent of those who sustain a hip fracture require life-long nursing care.

Falls also can cause head injuries, lacerations, severe bruising and arm or leg fractures.

Risk factors for falls and preventive measures are as follows.

Impaired vision

• Have regular vision checkups.

• Add contrasting colored strips on the edges of first and last steps to identify the change in level.

Lack of physical activity

• Exercise regularly to maintain muscle tone and strength.

Osteoporosis

(thinning of the bones)

• Work with your doctor to diagnosis and treat osteoporosis.

Medications

• Prescription pain medicine, sedatives and anti-depressant drugs are the biggest medication culprits in falls.

• Beware of alcohol interacting with drugs.

• Know the common side effects of your medications.

Home hazards

• Avoid throw rugs.

vReduce clutter.

• Maintain adequate lighting.

• Install grab bars around bathtubs and toilets.

• Keep commonly used items within easy reach.

• Avoid using floor polish or wax to prevent slipping.

• Remove caster wheels from furniture.

• Use night lights.

• Avoid step stools and ladders.

I would also love to start a campaign to remove all concrete parking bumpers in parking lots. They are accidents waiting to happen.

The elderly tend to fall face-first onto the pavement, a result I have witnessed far too many times in my practice. Please be extremely careful when walking to and from your car to avoid tripping over these bumper hazards.

As we age, we all need to move around more carefully and slow things down a bit to prevent falls and to help us enjoy a longer, healthier and more independent life.

Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent care physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. A doctor with 36 years’ experience, he invites you to view all of his previous articles at his web site valleydoctor.wordpress.com or contact him at valleydoctor@sbcglobal.net. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.
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