Each year in the United States, 2.5 million people age 65 or older fall and have to seek help in an emergency room. Of that number, 700,000 are admitted to the hospital. It’s something that we see many times each day at Regions Hospital where I work. But what’s even more startling? Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among adults age 65 and older.
The statistics for falling are staggering, yes. But I want you to know that falls are often preventable. The two big keys? 1.) Knowing what the most common risks for falling are. And 2.) Talking with your doctor about falls prevention so that you are aware of which risks you individually may face and what you can do to lower those risks.
Talk to your doctor about how to protect yourself from falls. You can be at greater risk for falling if:
You have (or don’t have) certain things in your house.
The doctors at Regions have found there’s a lot in common between the homes of many folks who have ended up in our emergency room. What things are at the top of that list? Bad lighting, slippery rugs and unreachable storage spaces.
Download this home safety checklist. If you answer “no” to any of the questions on it, take action so that all of your responses turn to a “yes.” The vast majority of changes that you might need to make are minor things, but they are almost always the most impactful. (A note: There are lots of products out there on the market that promise to make your home safer. The degree to which that’s true varies, so I advise you to do your research and consult with your loved ones or a medical professional. If you’re looking for something that’s doctor-recommended, Park Nicollet’s Health & Care Stores can be a good place to start.)
You take certain medicines.
There are medications that can affect your alertness, gait and balance. Make sure you’re asking your doctor or pharmacist to review what you take regularly. This is especially easy to do if you have a HealthPartners health insurance plan – because you can talk to a specially trained pharmacist about it in person or over the phone. Our team of medication therapy management (MTM) pharmacists will talk with you to make sure your medicines are working as they should and that you feel your best when you’re on them. They work hand-in-hand with your doctor and other members of your care team. And they can often even find lower cost options for the medicines you’ve been prescribed.
MTM pharmacists find an average of three problems with each new person they help. HealthPartners covers the cost of MTM appointments for most members who have pharmacy coverage with us. Learn more about HealthPartners’ MTM service.
There are MTM pharmacists who work at several HealthPartners and Park Nicollet clinic locations, too. You can meet with them even if you have health insurance through an insurer other than HealthPartners. First though, make sure to check with your insurance company to see if your plan covers that appointment.
You live with a chronic health condition.
Stroke, diabetes, low blood pressure and osteoporosis are some of the big ones that make falls more likely. If any of these affect you, it’s really important that you’re getting proper treatment and staying up to date on your care. Consistently meeting with an MTM pharmacist can help a lot with managing your chronic condition, too.
You don’t exercise.
When you don’t move, it leads to muscle weakness and slower reflexes. Exercising and stretching regularly will help you build strength. It will also improve your balance and coordination. Aim to devote some time each day to walking. Get in more steps than the bare minimum necessary to live your life. 10,000 are what doctors across the board recommend, but any amount (over 0) helps.
Your diet isn’t great.
Like with all other aspects of your health, eating well and getting good nutrition goes hand in hand with maintaining your physical fitness. Strive to include a protein source at every meal. And get enough calcium and vitamin D. Also key: Limiting how much alcohol you drink (or cutting these beverages from your diet altogether if any of your medicines interact negatively with it).
You have poor eyesight or blindness – or your vision changes.
Make sure you’re getting your vision checked at least once a year – because a lot of us are affected by unexpected eyesight changes at some point during our lives. Update your glasses or contact lenses if your prescription changes.
Bones play an important role in our bodies – so protect yours by avoiding falls! Healing becomes more complex as we age, but the keys to preventing a broken bone remain simple and the same. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.