Every year, one in three people over age 65 suffers a fall. "Falling" doesn’t sound serious, but falls are the number one reason for emergency-room visits among elderly people, and the leading cause of injury, fatal and nonfatal alike. Falling often means breaking bones, particularly the hip bone. Falling is also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, which is responsible for almost half of fatal adult falls. Even without physical injury, falling can be detrimental to quality of life. People who have fallen often fear falling again. In fact, it’s a vicious cycle—people who have fallen curtail activities, which lowers mobility and fitness, which makes another fall more likely.
This effect is compounded by the fact that many people, as they get older, resign themselves to falling, or to fear of falling. It’s thought of as an inevitable part of aging, one of many grim equations: getting older equals falling down. In fact, falling isn’t simply something that happens to people when they get old; falls can be prevented. One often-overlooked preventative measure is getting new glasses. Eyesight really does diminish with age, and people over about 30 should get their eyes examined regularly. Regular checkups also make it possible to avoid drastic changes in prescription, which can make things worse. Even people who didn’t need glasses or contact lenses growing up should see an optometrist in their later years.
Exercise is good for staying fit, allowing for easier recovery from near-falls, and maintaining balance. T’ai chi, a martial art introduced to the United States in 1939, has proven benefits in helping balance and preventing falls. In a study of stroke survivors, who are particularly prone to falling, t’ai chi cut the risk in half. The destressing effect can also lessen fear of falling.
It is also helpful to make a person’s space as fall-proof as possible. That means tucking away tripping hazards such as shoes, cords, plants, and boxes. All rooms in the house should be well-lit, and stairway railings should be secure. Stairs are especially dangerous, and carrying bulky items like laundry a particular hazard. Throw rugs and the like should be secured so thy don’t bunch up and so the edges don’t curl, such as with non-skid mats or double-sided tape.