Falling Down: Risk Factors and Prevention

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Oct 12, 2015

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Colorado - Northern Colorado

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year one in three adults over the age of 65 falls and 2 million are treated in the emergency room for fall-related injuries. Knowing the risk factors for falling is the first step in preventing an incident. The most common risk factors include: a history of previous falls, balance impairment, gait abnormalities, dizziness, reduced muscle strength and flexibility, visual impairment, medications, advanced age, peripheral neuropathy and recent hospital discharge. As we age, falling becomes of greater concern, however, it is not an inevitable part of aging. The following steps can be taken to help significantly reduce the risk.
Meet with your doctor:

Have a discussion with your doctor about your medications. Are there any that can cause dizziness, drowsiness or cognitive impairment? These may need to be discontinued or dosing may need to be modified.

Keep moving: Many older adults lose their sense of balance or experience a decreased level of coordination, flexibility and muscle strength. With your doctors approval, consider activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi. There are also exercise programs designed to specifically target strength, balance and flexibility. Physical therapy is advised after a recent hospitalization or while recovering from an injury or surgery.

See your podiatrist: There are multiple foot and ankle conditions that can compromise balance during gait. Bunions and hammer toes can limit the ability to use your toes to purchase the ground and maintain balance. Calluses and corns or peripheral neuropathy can decrease tactile sensitivity, making it difficult to feel the floor under your feet. A podiatrist may be able to help reduce the risk due to these conditions.

Wear sturdy shoes: Wearing slippers, socks or being barefoot has consistently been associated with an increased risk of falling. However, not all shoes are protective for falls. Avoid wearing high heels, flimsy shoes, shoes without adequate fixation (laces, straps, or buckles) and shoes with smooth tread.
Have your vision checked: Older adults should have their eyes examined every year to evaluate for cataracts, retinopathy, glaucoma and other forms of visual impairment. Those with contact lenses or glasses should have the strength of their prescriptions confirmed and changed if necessary.
Safety in the home: Remove fall hazards that could be tripped over and install better lighting and handrails where appropriate.

Editors Note: This article was submitted by Dr. Kate Johnson, DPM. Dr. Johnson is a podiatrist at A Step Ahead Foot and Ankle Center and practices in Loveland, Fort Collins and Cheyenne. She may be reached at 970-493 - 4660.

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