Schnitzer: Falls a significant health threat to area seniors

Each year millions of older adults experience falls and fall-related injuries. Falls are serious and costly but they can be prevented. Falls Prevention Awareness Week is Sept. 22-28 – a time to highlight the dangers of falls and offer tips to avoid them.

Dr. Cary Schnitzer

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in four people in the U.S. over age 65 reports falling each year, and fall-related emergency-department visits among older adults are estimated at approximately three million per year. In 2016, 30,000 older adults died as a result of a fall.

Falls can present a more significant health threat than many may realize, and, for older adults, they can take a serious toll on quality of life and independence. The National Safety Council lists falls as the third-leading cause of unintentional injury-related fatalities. For working adults, depending on the industry, falls can be the leading cause of death.

Being aware of the risk factors and taking the proper precautions can reduce  one’s chances of serious injury. Following are a few things to consider along with tips to avoid falls:

  •  Vitamin D levels – Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and slows down bone mineral loss. Studies have shown that it can also improve muscle strength and function. Get your vitamin D levels checked by a physician.
  • Lower-body weakness – People who have lower-body weakness or have trouble with balance and walking should take extra precaution. Do exercises that can strengthen your legs and improve balance.
  •  Medicines – some medicines including sedatives, antidepressants and other over-the-counter medications can affect balance. Be aware of what you are taking and how it can affect you.
  • Footwear – Pay attention to foot pain and poor footwear. Make sure your shoes fit appropriately and are comfortable. See a doctor if you are experiencing foot pain.
  • Clutter – Throw rugs or objects in your path around the home can be problematic. Remove clutter and make sure there is adequate lighting.
  • Vision problems – Sight impairment increases with age and can cause issues with balance. Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses as needed.

For some older adults, falls and fall-related injuries are the start of a downward spiral that can diminish their health, create emotional trauma and, in some cases, bring about an early death. Consult your health care provider to discuss your possible risks.

Cary Schnitzer, MD
Chief medical officer
OptumCare Network of Arizona

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