It Only Takes One: Preventing Falls Before They Happen
Most people don’t start to get serious about preventing falls until after they’ve lost their footing for the first time—or sometimes after falling several times.
But here’s the hard truth:
It only takes one.
One fall is enough to break a hip, cause a traumatic brain injury, or lead to any number of potential complications.
And even “minor” falls can start a chain of events leading to significant mobility loss, ongoing health concerns, even death.
We know. For us, fall prevention is deeply personal. Dr. Melhuish’s grandfather, Harry, died from complications after a simple fall.
The Incredible Cost of Falls
The first thing you need to understand about falling is how common it is.
In fact, it’s estimated that around 1 in 4 seniors over the age of 65 will fall at least once this year. The risk is closer to 1 in 2 for a typical adult over age 80.
The second thing you need to understand is how costly falls can be—not just in financial terms, but in terms of your health and happiness.
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among American seniors. About 1 in 5 falls results in a serious injury—broken wrist, broken hip, brain injury, etc. Those injuries are responsible for over 3 million ER visits and nearly 1 million hospitalizations in the United States per year.
Many of these injuries never fully heal. And even if they do physically, the mental and emotional trauma may still be permanent.
In fact, some people are so afraid to fall again that they significantly cut back on their level of physical activity. Unfortunately, this actually makes you more likely to fall due to decreasing balance and strength—not to mention that it reduces your quality of life and increases your risk of developing chronic medical conditions.
How Do You Know You’re at Risk?
It should be obvious that anyone at elevated risk of falling should take steps to prevent a tumble before it happens.
The problem is that many people don’t fully comprehend the risk until after they’ve already fallen once or more. Only then do they realize how unsteady they really are!
Successfully preventing falls requires you to be honest with yourself about your balance and stability. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Am I having increased difficulty getting in or out of chairs?
- Do I find myself reaching for walls, people, furniture, etc. to stay balanced?
- Am I uncomfortable walking on uneven surfaces like grass or dirt?
You should also be aware of some of the common risk factors that are linked with increasing instability, including:
- Gait abnormalities (shuffling walk, limping, etc.) or foot deformities (bunions, hammertoes, etc.)
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Declining vision or hearing
- Taking multiple regular medications
If you answered yes to any of the above questions or risk factors and you don’t have a fall prevention plan, it’s time to get one—soon. Even if you haven’t fallen before. As we already mentioned—it only takes one. There’s no guarantee you’ll ever really recover from your first.
So What Can You Do to Prevent Falls?
The good news is that falls are mostly preventable. Although no fall prevention strategy is perfect, you can significantly reduce your risk by both improving your physical capabilities, as well as making your environment safer.
The first step, though, is scheduling an appointment with us for a fall risk assessment. During this assessment, we’ll carefully examine your feet and gait mechanics. We’ll also review your medications and any other underlying medical conditions you may have (vision, blood pressure, hearing, etc.) and talk with you about any recent falls or near falls you’ve experienced.
From there, we can help you develop a personalized fall prevention strategy that takes your unique condition, needs, and living situation into account.
We can also provide assistive devices to help you maintain your balance. This includes the Moore Balance Brace (MBB), an ankle-foot orthotic device clinically proven to minimize sway and keep you balanced as you stand and walk.
Useful features of the MBB for those at high risk of falling include:
- Thin, lightweight profile that slips easily under clothes and into shoes.
- Polypropylene shell that is strong enough to provide good support and stability for the ankle and heel.
- Simple to adjust with easy-to-reach Velcro straps.
- Incorporated custom orthotic footbed for optimal arch support and shock absorption.
In a study conducted just a few months ago (May 2019) in the medical journal Gerontology, a team of researchers from Baylor University found that seniors who wore the MBB daily decreased body sway (a key predictor of falling) by more than 50 percent, and reported both reduced fear of falling and increased physical activity versus those who did not wear the brace.
But the MBB is just one part of a comprehensive fall prevention program. Other important considerations include:
- Wearing sensible shoes that fit and support your feet properly and aren’t prone to slipping.
- Staying active, with healthy and safe exercises such as walking, strength training, swimming, water workouts, yoga, or tai chi.
- Removing in-home obstacles like loose rugs and tripping hazards.
- Installing assistive technology such as handrails, raised toilet seats, night lights, etc.
- Scheduling follow-up appointments with other key members of your medical team (primary care, eye doctor, physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc.)
It may sound like a lot. But actually, good fall prevention practices are simpler than they seem. And applying them consistently can help you stay healthier, more active, and more independent through every stage of life.
To schedule your fall risk examination with Dr. Victoria Melhuish in Carson City, please call our office today at (775) 783-8037.