Avoid a dangerous fall with four simple safety tips

As the weather gets colder, you’re more likely to come upon an occasional slick sidewalk or step. And the last thing you want is to slip and hurt yourself. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few simple precautions you can take to prevent dangerous or potentially fatal falls.

Falls are, by far, the most common cause of injury in older adults. In fact, one in four Americans ages 65 or older falls each year. In 2016 alone, 29 million Americans fell, resulting in seven million injuries and 29,000 deaths. And the medical costs related to falls reach an estimated $50 billion annually.

Plus, the number of total injuries and costs are likely much larger than this, considering how many falls go unreported.

Fortunately, a new study found that people with a high risk of falling can dramatically improve their chance of avoiding serious injury just by participating in a simple prevention program.

Your simple fall-proof plan

For this study, the researchers assessed fall risk among 12,000 older men and women using a few different factors, including:

  • Evaluated eye and vision problems
  • Functional abilities, such as leg strength
  • Low blood pressure
  • Medication use
  • Safety hazards in the home

Researchers then divided the participants into three groups, according to their fall risk.

Researchers determined those in the first group to be “at risk” for suffering a fall. As a result, they received intervention care developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which included:

  • Medication changes
  • Occupational therapy
  • Strength-and-balance training
  • Wearing corrective eyewear

Those in the second group were also determined to be “at risk” of falling. However, they didn’t receive any intervention care.

And the study participants in the third group weren’t at risk of falling, so they didn’t receive intervention care either.

It turns out, the “at risk” seniors who received intervention care were 40 percent less likely to suffer fall-related injuries that required hospitalization compared to those “at risk” seniors who didn’t receive the safety program.

In fact, the “at risk” seniors who received care improved their risk so significantly, their chances of falling were comparable to those seniors in the third group, who didn’t have a risk of falling.

Furthermore, researchers looked specifically at costs and found that the expenses associated with just one hospitalization for a fall-related injury were comparable to the cost of an entire fall prevention safety program.

Plus, the lead study author stated that individualizing this type of safety program to specific individual needs would likely yield even better results.

Here are four things you can do today to take fall-risk prevention into your own hands and make your surroundings safer:

1.) Beware of polypharmacy

As I’ve reported before, polypharmacy (taking five or more daily medications) is an increasing problem in our country. And although pharmacists now have systems to call attention to multiple drug interactions, a lot still slips through the cracks.

Plus, if you see more than one doctor, they might not be aware of what your other physicians are prescribing.

So — make sure to ask your primary care doctor to regularly review each and every one of your medications and dosages. And bring the full list to each doctor visit. Hopefully, it’s not too long of a list ¾ and if it is, it’s always worth having a conversation about whether it would make sense to reduce the number you’re taking.

2.) Pay careful attention to blood pressure and blood sugar drugs
Make sure your doctor regularly reviews your blood pressure medication. Especially if you’re over 60.

Compelling evidence now suggests that maintaining a slightly higher blood pressure as you get older benefits health. And one group of experts now recommends that treatments to reduce blood pressure for men and women over 60 should not begin until BP levels are over 150/90.

Furthermore, blood pressure medications can push your numbers too low, causing fainting and falls — especially if these drugs aren’t adjusted or stopped when they’re no longer needed.

Likewise, drugs to control blood sugar can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) —  another major cause of falling and injury in older adults if they’re taken longer than needed.

Plus, newer blood pressure and diabetes drugs are particularly problematic, since many times, they haven’t been around long enough for adverse effects to present themselves. Instead, you should always opt for safer generic drugs that have been around long enough to stand the test of time.

3.) Consider a pet

Getting a pet wasn’t part of the CDC’s safety program. But it should’ve been.

On the one hand, having pet dogs and cats underfoot may mean that you have to step over and dodge certain items on the floor. But on the whole, observational studies show that having pets results in all kinds of health benefits for both body and mind, as I’ve reported before. It’s one of the best things you can do to improve your longevity.

If you need assistance getting up and walking around, large, trained service dogs can help you tremendously. These dogs can provide physical support, almost like a “walker” — but without having to rely on cumbersome, ungainly, and unsightly medical equipment. And if you fall and can’t get up, they’re trained to get you help.

4.) Get more protein

As I reported yesterday, men and women who eat more protein have better odds of retaining their independence while performing everyday tasks — such as grocery shopping, lifting things, and getting up from a seated position.

Specifically, I suggest you aim to eat between 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight a day. Revisit yesterday’s article for my specific recommendations and how you can calculate your optimal intake.

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“Implementation of the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries Initiative in Primary Care: An Outcome Evaluation,” The Gerontologist (doi.org/10.1093/geront/gny101) 9/20/2018