We may not recognize it but we’re often surrounded by hazards, at home and at work, which put us at risk of having a fall. Falls are a common and often painful reminder that our bodies are fragile. Falls cause so many injuries, in fact, that education campaigns have sprouted up over the years to help people avoid them – including this month’s Falls Prevention Awareness Week (Sept. 22-28).
According to the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, falls are the number one cause of injury, hospital visits due to trauma, and death from an injury among people age 65 and older. It is estimated that one in three older adults falls each year.
Our Drs Benham and Geier offer some everyday tips to help you and your loved ones can avoid injury from falls – and cope with them if you have a tumble:
- Be careful around small pets – believe it or not, one the most common causes of falls is tripping over a small animal. Many a story has been told to a clinician about carrying a plate to the dinner table only to be tripped by a cat or dog who’s underfoot.
- Skip the scatter rugs. These decorative items may seem like they’ll spruce up a space but in fact they are the source of many a tumble. Avoid them and save yourself some potential pain.
- Cords and cables – we live in an electronic age and that means stringing cords and cables across floors, around furniture and other areas where they’ll trip even the most careful of us eventually. Think carefully about placement of electronic appliances with safety in mind first and enjoyment second.
- Avoid heels – they have a long history as fashion statements but also as a source of pain from their role in tripping up their wearers. Think about donning less dramatic shoes if you want avoid dramatic mishaps. Tip: if going out in town consider wearing something with treads and a grip – you can always change into your pumps once you get to the party.
- Reconsider the Crocs – they have many a fan for their comfort and oddball, garden-inspired chic, but these modified clogs have no heel support and in uncertain conditions may actually contribute to a trip becoming a fall.
- Wet surfaces – slips often come before a fall so be extra careful on surfaces like wet decking, tiles, even pavement.
- Handrails on stairways – they’re there for a reason. Don’t be a hero, especially when in a hurry or in crowded spaces like public transit. Use them for guidance and stability as well as peace of mind.
- Good lighting – adequate lighting contributes to our ability to properly sense our surroundings and better judge what we need to do to be safe in them. Keep your home and workplace well lit, especially in areas that may cause risk like stairwells.
- Wear your glasses – it may seem obvious, but some of us out of vanity or overconfidence in our optical health eschew our specs. When in doubt put them on so you can properly steer yourself safely. Be careful also with varifocal lenses, which can have a mild distortion effect.
- Stepladders and stools – be extra careful on them when reaching for items on high kitchen shelves and cupboards, especially anything awkward or heavy. Ask for help grabbing that seldom-used fish poacher or celebration platter.
- Winter holidays – along with tripping over fluffy or tabby, are especially problematic when it comes to household falls. Be extra careful pulling the holiday lighting from the attic and avoid getting on ladders to put those decorations up if you can without a buddy to spot you.
What happens if you do have a fall?
If you do have a fall, remember a valuable rule: think of your head first. Did you hit your head or lose consciousness? If you’re awake and alert, check if you can move everything. Before getting up check if you are dizzy; if so, call 911.
After the head, check your extremities. If it doesn’t look or feel right is there a relative or buddy you can call? You don’t want to be alone after a fall if you can help it. Remember if you feel OK in your head there is probably someone you can call to help you decide what to do next.
If you’re unable to shake off the pain or put weight on a limb you should probably get it evaluated. If you can shake it off, great, but have your medical team check you out if you notice swelling or redness or it seems to feel worse over time.
Finally, remember not to put any heat on an injury for the first 72 hours. Put ice on it and consider taking an anti-inflammatory. If it gets any worse, or you’re unable to take anti-inflammatories, consult your clinician.
Let’s all stay safe out there!