Ways to reduce fall risk and injuries
It can happen to anyone at any time. One minute you’re on your feet; the next you’re on the ground. Falls are the leading cause of all non-fatal injuries, and the most common reason for visits to the emergency room.
One in five falls results in a significant injury, such as head trauma or broken wrists, hips, legs or ankles. Falls are also the second leading cause of injury-related deaths behind motor vehicle accidents.
“We often associate falls with children or the elderly, but in fact 50- to 60-year olds experience more falls than older individuals,” said Dr. Allison Averill director of neurorehabilitation, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (www.kessler-rehab.com).
“And while falling at some point in time is inevitable, there are ways to protect yourself from serious injury by creating a safer environment in and around your home, and also by learning how to fall,” Averill said.
To reduce fall risk:
Eliminate clutter. Keep pathways clear by moving furniture or removing throw rugs, toys and other obstacles in the home, as well as tools, hoses and other items outdoors.
Focus on safety. Make sure rooms are well lit, and use handrails on stairways and grab bars in the bath or shower.
Outdoors, pay attention to the pavement or other surfaces and weather conditions. Even at the market or the mall, watch the flooring, displays and other potential hazards.
Build your balance. Developing core strength and flexibility through exercise and/or physical therapy, along with training like tai chi, may help improve balance.
Check your eyes and your meds. Poor eyesight, certain medications, and even your diet — as well as the effects of arthritis, MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke and other medical conditions — can affect balance and coordination and lead to falls. See a physician if you experience any difficulties.
If you start to fall:
Understanding the science of falling is critical. Studies have shown that it’s not whether you slip on a wet or icy surface, trip over a rug or a crack in the sidewalk, or fall down a flight of stairs, but rather what you do in those brief seconds before you reach the ground:
Protect your head. Falls are the #1 cause of traumatic brain injury in the United States, accounting for nearly half of these injuries. To help minimize the risk, try to tuck your head toward your chest if falling backward, and turn your head to the side if falling forward.
Reach and relax. Although it’s natural to tense up, try to stay loose and reach with your arms bent to help cushion your fall.
Butt first. Falls are the second leading cause of spinal cord injuries. To help distribute the impact of a fall, try to land on the fleshier parts of your body and roll with the fall.
For more information, visit www.kessler-rehab.com. Kessler Institute is one of seven federally-designated model systems in the nation for the treatment and research of both traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.