RESOURCE: Falls and Fractures

Source from Life Senior Services

A simple fall can change your life. Just ask any of the thousands of older men and women who fall each year and break, or fracture, a bone. One third of older adults will fall. One third of those who fall will die. One third will never be able to return to their normal lives. Only one third of those who fall will recover completely.

Getting older can bring lots of changes. Sight, hearing, muscle strength, coordination, and reflexes aren’t what they once were. Balance can be affected by diabetes and heart disease, or by problems with your circulation, thyroid, or nervous system. Some medicines can cause dizziness. Any of these things can make a fall more likely.

Then there’s osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones thin and likely to break easily. Osteoporosis is a major reason for broken bones in women past menopause. It also affects older men. When your bones are fragile, even a minor fall can cause one or more bones to break. Although people with osteoporosis must be very careful to avoid falls, all of us need to take extra care as we get older.

A broken bone may not sound so terrible. After all, it will heal, right? But as we get older, a break can be the start of more serious problems. The good news is that there are simple things you can do to help prevent most falls.

Take the Right Steps
Falls and accidents seldom “just happen.” The more you take care of your overall health and well-being, the more likely you’ll be to lower your chances of falling. Here are a few hints:

  • Ask your doctor about a special test called a bone density test that tells how strong your bones are. If need be, your doctor can prescribe medications that will help make your bones stronger and harder to break.
  • Talk with your doctor and plan an exercise program that is right for you. Regular exercise helps keep you strong and improves muscle tone. It also helps keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Mild weight-bearing exercise – such as walking or climbing stairs – may even slow bone loss from osteoporosis.
  • Have your vision and hearing tested often. Even small changes in sight and hearing can make you less stable. So, for example, if your doctor orders new eyeglasses take time to get used to then, and always wear them when you should. Or, if you need a new hearing aid, be sure it fits well.
  • Find out about the possible side effects of medicines you take. Some medicines might affect your coordination or balance. If so, ask your doctor or pharmacist what you can do to lessen your chance of falling.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Even a small amount can affect your balance and reflexes.
  • Always stand up slowly after eating, lying down, or resting. Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop, which can make you feel faint.
  • Don’t let your home get too cold or too hot…it can make you dizzy. In the summer, if your home is not air-conditioned, keep cool with an electric fan, drink lots of liquids, and limit exercise. In the winter, keep the nighttime temperature at 65 degrees or warmer.
  • Use a cane, walking stick, or walker to help you feel steadier when you walk. This is very important when you’re walking in areas you don’t know well, or in places where the walkways are uneven. Be very careful when walking on wet or icy surfaces. Then can be very slippery. Try to have sand or salt spread on icy areas.
  • Wear rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes that fully support your feet. Wearing only socks or shoes with smooth soles on stairs or waxed floors can be unsafe.
  • Hold the handrails when you use the stairs. If you must carry something while you’re going up or down, hold it in one hand and hold the handrail with the other.
  • Don’t take chances. Stay away from a freshly washed floor. And don’t stand on a chair or table to reach something that’s too high – use a “reach stick” instead. Reach sticks are special grabbing tools that you can buy at many hardware or most medical supply houses.
  • Find out about buying a home monitoring system service. Usually you wear a button on a chain around your neck. If you fall or need emergency help, you just push the button to alert the service. Emergency staff is then sent to your home. You can find “medical alarm” services in your Yellow Pages.

Most medical insurance companies and Medicare do not cover items like home monitoring systems and reaching sticks, so be sure to ask about cost. You will probably have to pay for them yourself.

Make Your Home Safe
You can help prevent falls by making changes to unsafe areas in your home.

In stairways, hallways, and pathways:

  • Make sure there is good lighting with light switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.
  • Keep areas where you walk tidy.
  • Check that all carpets are fixed firmly to the floor so they won’t slip. Put no-slip strips on tile and wooden floors. You can buy these strips at the hardware store.
  • Have handrails on both sides of all stairs, from top to bottom, and be sure they’re tightly fastened.

In bathrooms and powder rooms:

  • Mount grab bars near toilets and on both the inside and outside of your tub and shower.
  • Place non-skid mats, strips, or carpet on all surfaces that may get wet.
  • Keep lights on.

In your bedroom:

  • Keep electric cords and telephone wires near walls and away from walking paths.
  • Tack all carpets and area rugs firmly to the floor.
  • Arrange your furniture (especially low coffee tables) and other objects so they are not in your way when you walk.
  • Make sure your sofas and chairs are a good height for you so that you can get into and out of them easily.

For More Information
Many states and local areas have education and/or home modification programs to help older people prevent falls. Check with your local government’s health department or division of elder affairs to see if there is a program in your area.

For more complete information on simple, inexpensive repairs and changes that would make your home safer, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety  Commission. Ask for a free copy of the booklet, “Home Safety Checklist for Older Consumers.”

  • Consumer Product Safety Commission
    Washington, DC 20207
    (800) 638-2772 (toll-free)
    (800) 638-8270 (TTY toll-free)
     
  • National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Mailstop K65
    4770 Buford Highway NE
    Atlanta, GA 30341-3724
    (800) 311-3435 (toll-free)
    www.cdc.gov/ncipc

The National Institute on Aging has information on health and aging, including information on osteoporosis and a booklet on home safety for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • The National Institute on Aging Information Center
    P.O. Box 8057
    Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
    (800) 222-2225 (toll-free)
    (800) 222-4225 (TTY toll-free)

Visit the Web site www.nih.gov/HealthInformation to order publications in English or Spanish, or to sign up for regular email alerts.

Visit http://www.nihseniorhealth.gov/, a senior-friendly Web site from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This simple-to-use Web site features popular health topics for older adults, including information on using medicines safely. It has large type and a “talking” function that reads the text aloud.