Today, U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) was rushed to a Washington, D.C.-area hospital in an ambulance after suffering a fall at his home. Thankfully, the longest-serving U.S.senator in history is expected to recover.
Unfortunately, what happened to Sen. Byrd is not an unusual event among the elderly population. Every 18 seconds in this country, an adult over the age of 65 falls so severely so as to warrant a trip to the emergency room. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2003, 13,700 elderly Americans died from falls.
Could you or a loved one be at risk for falls? A person’s risk for falling is determined by things such as age, a history of falls, medications (some cause dizziness), gait issues and his or her mental state. It’s quite common for people to fall in the same manner Sen. Byrd did – he stood up, felt dizzy and fell.
If you think you could be at risk for falling, discuss with your doctor what steps you should take to prevent falls. Your physician may be able to prescribe you a different medication that does not cause dizziness, and may know of community exercise programs that will help you improve your balance. Also, you should have an ophthalmologist give you a yearly vision check to make sure that you are still seeing clearly.
To reduce your chances of falling at home, do the following:
Ensure your rooms are lit well enough so that you can clearly see any objects you might trip over. Don’t leave clutter in areas you frequently walk through.
If you use throw rugs, use double-sided tape to make sure they adhere securely to your floors.
Don’t boost yourself up on furniture to out-of-reach objects – instead, use a step stool. Better yet, put items that you use frequently in cabinets that you can easily reach without a stool.
Wear shoes that fit well and are not too lose. Rubber-bottomed shoes will give you the best grip, so wear them inside as well as outside.
You may even want to consider having an occupational therapist visit your home. He or she can help you identify potential hazards and let you know what safety modifications you should make to your home – adding grab bars to the bathroom or lights to a stairway, for example.
Are you concerned about your own risk for falls or the risk of someone you know? Have you done anything to make your home safer? For more information, visit the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, or talk to your physician about ways to fall-proof your home. To find a LifeBridge Health physician, call 410-601-WELL (9355).