According to the World Health Organization, falls are the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide1. It is estimated that 646,000 fatal falls occur each year. Adults age 65 and older seem to suffer the greatest numbers of fatal falls. In a study published by The American Medical Directors Association, women over the age of 70 had a greater risk of falling than men2. It is more common for falls to take place in a familiar environment during your regular activities of daily living.
There are many reasons why people fall. Some are environmental, like area rugs or spills on the floor, while others are related to the physical health of the individual3. Physical factors that can lead to falls include:
- Loss of balance
- Poor vision
- Muscle weakness
- Changes in a person’s weight and how it is distributed throughout their body
Additional fall risk factors include:
- Age- as we age our risks increase
- Occupation- hazardous working conditions or elevated heights
- Alcohol or substance use
- Certain medications can increase risk of falling- such as muscle relaxants, sleeping pills, and some heart medications
- Underlying medical conditions-such as neurological or other disabling conditions
The good news is we can reduce our risk of falling even as we age. It’s never too early or too late to start. When we think of exercise, typically things like walking or running pop into our mind. Balance exercises are a great way to strengthen your core and prevent future falls. Below are some exercises that can improve your balance:
- Standing on one leg- try standing on one leg for 10 seconds. Stop and then switch to the other foot. You can do this exercise while washing the dishes or brushing your teeth. Try to get in 10 repetitions.
- Heel-toe walk- start by taking 20 steps while keeping your eyes straight ahead. Put your heel in front of your toes as you take a step. Stop and turn around and take another 20 steps in the opposite direction. Repeat the sequence three times.
- Try tai chi to improve your fitness, agility, and balance.
Remember, by preventing falls you are preserving your independence.
Written by: Jennifer Martin, USPM Director of Health Services