It’s happened to all of us. One minute we’re striding merrily along, the next we’re sprawled on the ground. While we often don’t give experiencing a fall a thought beyond mild embarrassment, it’s something to which we all need to pay adequate attention.
Falls occur more frequently and can have more severe consequences than you might think. While the elderly are most susceptible to falling, it can happen to anyone. Falls can also lead to a serious injury such as traumatic brain injury, hip fracture, and other broken bones.
In fact, falls are the number one reason NHRMC sees trauma patients.
NHRMC trauma registry data from the past five years show that:
o 5,115 patients (half of NHRMC’s trauma patients) were seen because of a fall.
o Approximately 65 percent of patients seen for a fall were 65 or older.
o 95 percent of patients over the age of 64 who came to NHRMC’s Emergency Department for a fall were admitted to the hospital.
o Approximately half of the older adults admitted for a fall were discharged to a skilled nursing facility.
o Three percent of patients of all ages treated for a fall ultimately died.
What Causes Falls
While people fall for a multitude of reasons, medical problems top the list. Many older adults fall because they are weak or have a balance problem.
Other medical issues that can make anyone susceptible to falling include poor vision, medications that cause or interact in a way that causes dizziness, osteoporosis, vitamin D deficiency, confusion or dementia, and orthostatic hypotension—one’s blood pressure drops rapidly when moving from sitting to standing.
Improper footwear (flip flops, flimsy slippers, stilettos, and wedges) and unsafe home environments are also behind many falls. Common hazards in the home include throw rugs, poorly lit stairs or hallways, exposed cords, step stools, and ladders.
How to Prevent Falls
You can reduce your risk of falling by taking a few simple precautions:
o Participate in an exercise or balance program to improve strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance.
o See your doctor to ensure you don’t have any medical conditions that put you at risk of falling. Have your vision checked annually and if you need glasses, make sure you wear them.
o Ask your physician or pharmacist if your medications could make you more susceptible to falling.
o Make your home as safe as possible. Get rid of clutter, throw rugs and loose cords. Install bright lights in dark areas.
o Be extra careful when walking on uneven sidewalks or wet surfaces. Use a cane or walker if you are unsteady.
o Stand up slowly.
o Wear proper footwear; well-fitting, lace-up shoes that support your feet and slippers or socks with non-skid soles.
o If you know you’re susceptible to falling, get a medical alert device you keep on you to make it easy to call for help.
What to Do if You Fall
o Make sure you don’t have any injuries.
o If you’re injured or can’t get up on your own, call 911.
o Stand up slowly if you can; sit up then kneel. Move to a sturdy chair or table and use it to pull yourself up.
o Let your doctor know you fell. While you may be tempted to skip this step, don’t. Some injuries from falling, such as head injuries, don’t manifest themselves for two to three days. Your doctor can determine whether your fall was due to a medical condition and, if so, work with you improve the condition.
Falls are all too common and can be serious. However, if you take some basic precautions, you can reduce your risk of falling.
For more information on NHRMC’s Trauma Services, visit: https://www.nhrmc.org/services/trauma-services
Meredith Spell RN, BSN is New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Injury and Violence Prevention Coordinator.