Four Ways to Prevent This Unexpected Death Sentence

When you're young, it seems like no big deal. But as you age, it can become a death sentence...

When kids fall, we often tell them to get right back up and shake it off. But for seniors, that's not usually possible.

Imagine you're home alone. Maybe you slip in the shower. Maybe your socks slip on the stairs. Maybe you trip over your Chihuahua. And before you know it, you're on the floor – injured and possibly unconscious. This could mean anything from an ER visit to expensive nursing-home bills... or even death.

This situation is more common than you might realize. Every year, 300,000 Americans aged 65 and over end up in the hospital with a hip fracture. And more than 95% of the time, that hip fracture is the result of a fall... which can lead to disability and nursing care. New search out of Hong Kong even shows that the number of people who suffer from hip fractures could double by 2050.

Falls account for 55% of unintentional injury deaths. For folks aged 65 and older, that works out to about 28,000 deaths each year.

Seniors should worry because they have a higher risk of falling. More than one out of four adults older than 65 fall every year. And deaths from falls increased over the past few years. Between 2007 and 2016, for instance, the rate increased 30%. In fact, 800,000 patients a year wind up hospitalized from a fall.

Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, which increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

The best step to avoiding falls is preparation. You want to take care of your home and your health in order to stay steady on your feet. So here are four tips to try today...

1. Invest in good shoes. Going around the house in socks or slippers with smooth soles can spell trouble. Well-fitting shoes with non-slip soles are a great investment.

Likewise, foot pain also causes falls. Things like bunions or diabetic pain make walking more difficult. Taking the time to find a good pair of comfortable shoes will not only help keep you safe but will also alleviate your pain. Stores like the Walking Company offer foot measurement and evaluations for a range of shoes designed for older folks as well.

2. Pick up after your pets. While pets provide affection and relief from loneliness, about 86,000 fall injuries involve a dog or a cat, according to the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence. But there are some things you can do to make your home safer without giving Fido away...

Make sure to keep your pet's toys and food bowl away from areas where you walk. Keep the area around their water bowl dry to avoid slipping on any splashed water. Try a mat under the bowl with a rubber bottom to keep it in place and sop up any water.

Obedience training also helps keep your dogs from jumping or running past you on the steps. And as the Fall Prevention Center recommends, try a small bell on your pet's collar so you can hear it underfoot if you can't see it.

3. Don't forget the bathroom. Slip-proof the bathtub with a non-slip mat. These typically go for less than $20 on Amazon or at retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond.

Add grab bars for extra security. You can find them on Amazon if you're a do-it-yourself installer, or you can hire someone to professionally install some for you.

Finally, add a night light. As we get older, our vision tends to get worse in the dark. Adding night lights along hallways and in bathrooms can help make walking at night safer.

4. Don't skip the workout. Yoga and tai chi are low-impact ways to exercise. Several studies have highlighted the benefits of each in terms of improving balance and reducing falls in people over 65 years.

Many senior centers and local gyms offer classes. And you can read my write-up on yoga right here to get started with some easy poses.

Following these four easy steps can help you maintain your independence and stay safe in your home.

Have a fall-prevention tip to share? Write to us at [email protected].

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 15, 2022