Fall risks can be attributed to many issues. Some of the most common causes of falls are vestibular issues, poor eyesight, weak muscles and even medications. With a little education, you can substantially reduce your risk of a fall.
As our country ages, the percentage of older people experiencing falls is increasing. Unfortunately, death rates from fall injuries have, too — substantially. From 2007 to 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided data that indicated deaths from falls for adults over the age of 65 increased 30%. They estimate that by 2030, there may be seven fall-related deaths every hour.
Throughout our lives, taking an accidental spill has and will continue to occur. When we were babies learning to walk, falls were routine. Often, a fall would rarely cause serious injury. Unfortunately, as we age a fall can have disastrous consequences. Almost 30% of falls in people 65 and older result in moderate to serious injuries that can diminish quality of life and increase the risk of premature death.
One of the biggest factors perpetrating falls involves balance. According to the Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA), balance is achieved and maintained by a complex set of sensorimotor control systems that include sensory input from vision, touch and the vestibular system.
Our vestibular system is comprised of tiny structures located in the inner ear just under the brain. Two of the parts are called the cochlea (responsible for hearing) and the vestibular apparatus (responsible for maintaining balance, stability and spatial orientation). As we age, changes to the vestibular system and how it sends information to the brain often become impaired.
While scientists don’t have a great understanding on how balance is affected by the aging vestibular system, they do know that an association between this system and vision exists. Researchers believe that vestibular signals processed by brain deteriorate and thus have an effect on eye movement.
Many people choose to see an eye doctor if they experience visual concerns like double vision, or a field of vision that bounces or jiggles when they move their head side to side. Unfortunately, when they see the eye doctor and are sitting with their head on a head rest, sometimes the issues don’t occur as the head is not in motion or rotating. This could be an indication that a vestibular disorder exists.
Muscle weakness is also a primary concern in attempting to mitigate the risk of falls. The World Health Organization reported that individuals with muscle weakness are four times more likely to fall compared to those with normal muscle strength. As people age and natural physiological changes occur — muscles often become less toned and less able to contract. This often contributes to fall risks.
Sarcopenia, the progression of muscle loss, is a natural and common condition. Preserve your muscle mass, an article from the Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Men’s Health Watch, states that, “After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade.”
Even if you are active, some muscle loss occurs. Make it a priority to educate yourself about a phenomenon called anabolic resistance. As we age, our bodies’ ability to break down and synthesize protein decreases. Because protein is considered integral in the building of muscle, it is important to counteract any breakdown by increasing protein consumption. Ask your medical provider if adding high-protein foods like tuna fish, salmon, eggs, cheese, yogurt or almonds would be OK.
Medications too often contribute to fall concerns. Drowsiness, dizziness, sleepiness and low blood pressure are frequently associated with side effects of prescribed medications to help people sleep, or to help with anxiety. These class of drugs are called benzodiazepines and common brand names include, Ativan, Valium, Restoril and Xanax.
Many anticholinergics drugs that treat health conditions like COPD, overactive bladder, asthma and even Parkinson’s have also proven to increase the likelihood of recurrent falls. If your medical provider has prescribed any medications that are linked to fall risks, you may want to sit with them and review options.
Talk to your doctor about concerns you may have for fall risks. A simple review of medications or referral to an occupational/physical therapist can keep you living a high quality of life.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.