It was reported earlier this year by the Centers for Disease and Prevention that the life expectancy for people in the United States is at an all-time high of 78 years and 9 ½ months. Women born in 2012 are now expected to live more than 81 years and men nearly 76 ½ years. It is true that people are living longer; but, are we living healthier, more stable lives? As the population ages, people are more at risk for developing chronic diseases as well as sustaining unintentional injuries such as accidental falls.
One out of three older adults experience accidental falls each year, but less than half talk to their health care providers about it. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among Florida’s older population. This can result in significant physical, social, and economic burdens. In 2012, there were 2,457 older adult residents fatally injured in an accidental fall. In addition, there were another 62,541 hospitalizations for injuries. There is also a huge cost associated with injuries sustained from these falls. In 2012, the median health cost was a little over $48,000 with a total cost exceeding $2.6 billion. There are many other consequences for older adults who experience a fall of some kind, such as the fear of falling again, forced relocation from the home, loss of independence, and stress in the family.
The most common injuries from accidental falls are hip fractures and traumatic brain injury. Hip fractures can lead to a steep decline in health due to an individual’s loss of mobility and independence. Those who most commonly sustain hip fractures include white women and individuals with a history of osteoporosis.
The majority of accidental falls (79 percent) occur within or around the home. This usually involves a person slipping, tripping, and/or stumbling and can be avoided by taking the necessary precautions. Here are steps you can take to help prevent an accidental fall:
- Exercise regularly to increase leg strength and improve balance.
- Ask a doctor or pharmacist to review your medications. A number of prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause drowsiness and dizziness.
- Get an eye check up every year.
- Make homes safer by reducing tripping hazards as well as adding grab bars and railings as needed.
Here are steps you can take to lower the risk of hip fractures:
- Include adequate calcium and vitamin D in a diet, whether it is from food and/or supplements.
- Practice weight bearing exercises.
- For those with osteoporosis, be sure to seek proper treatment.
By taking these simple steps, you can not only prevent a fall resulting in injury or death, but also ensure a long and healthy life. For more information, please visit www.flhealth.gov.
story by DR. ULYEE CHOE, Director of FDOH-Polk
About the Author: Dr. Ulyee Choe, an infectious disease physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (FDOH-Polk) and as a Polk County Medical Association member. For more information about FDOH-Polk, visit www.mypolkhealth.net.