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Falls are serious – but can be prevented

Kelly Wilson (inset) says falls are the number one cause of injury-related deaths, hospital stays, visits to the emergency room and the most common cause of permanent disability for children, adults, and seniors. — Screen Shot

By Kelly Wilson, Interior HealthQuality Consultant, Falls and Injury Prevention

Falls happen every day, across all age groups.  For children and youth, it might be a fall off playground equipment or a bicycle.  For adults, it might be a fall off a ladder or slipping on the floor at work.  For older adults, most falls occur in the home. 

Falls can have devastating effects:

  • They are the number one cause of injury-related deaths, hospital stays, visits to the emergency room and the most common cause of permanent disability for children, adults, and seniors.
  • Falls are the leading cause of injury‐related deaths and hospitalizations for B.C. seniors. In fact, within B.C. an average of 557 seniors die each year from falls. 
  • For youth, falls are second only to car and bike crashes.  On average in B.C., 13,397 seniors (aged 65 and older) are hospitalized each year —that’s 37 hospitalizations a day.

Women over 65 are the highest risk group, with almost double the rates of deaths, hospital stays, visits to the emergency room and permanent partial disability than older men. 

This may be due to the fact that women have less muscle mass than men and weaker bones, making them more likely to fall and break a bone. The good news is there are many things that can be done to prevent falls. 

The number one reason why seniors fall is because their muscles become weak due to inactivity. While you should always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program, the best advice for all ages is to get active, and include strength and balance training in your routines.  For example Tai Chi has been shown to be effective at preventing falls in seniors. Many community recreation centres now offer strength and balance classes designed for older participants or those with health issues.

Taking more than five medications also increases the risk of falling, as many medications have dizziness or drowsiness as a side effect. Sleeping pills should be avoided, if possible. It is important to tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the medications you take and to make sure you take your medications as directed.  If you think your medications are making you dizzy and might cause you to fall, be sure to tell your doctor or pharmacist right away. Don’t stop taking your medication without speaking with your doctor first. Be especially careful when you are starting a new medication as the side effects may be worse at the beginning.

Other tips to prevent falls:

  • Reduce clutter inside your home, especially on the floors. 
  • Make sure all outdoor pathways and stairs are well lit and free of ice, snow and leaves.
  • Avoid using ladders or step stools. Move things down to where you can reach them and/or ask a neighbour, family member or friend for assistance.
  • Use handrails and remove your reading glasses when going up and down stairs.
  • Wear comfortable low-heeled shoes that provide good support. 
  • Eat healthy foods and drink lots of water – poor nutrition and dehydration can cause dizziness.
  • Avoid rushing and “multi-tasking”. Be more mindful of where you put your feet and stay alert to your surroundings when you are walking, especially on stairs.

Have your vision checked each year. Wear your glasses and hearing aids. 

  • Consider using a walker or cane to help with getting around. Talk to a Community Physiotherapist or Occupational Therapist first to make sure you buy the right walking aid for you.

Nov 6-12 is Falls Prevention Week. For more information about fall and injury prevention, visit the fall prevention site www.findingbalancebc.ca and the Your Health section at www.interiorhealth.ca.