It was a fun afternoon. I had been playing with my young granddaughters at a nearby park. I was walking home and about to cross a side street when I noticed a car about to turn toward me. I motioned for him to go first. But he motioned for me to cross first. Not wanting to delay traffic, I doubled my pace, heading for the opposite curb. I was almost there when I stumbled, fell forward, and couldn’t do anything to stop it. I landed on the curb on my bare forearms. I was able to stand and assess that there appeared to be no broken bones. But I was bleeding from multiple wounds. I hastened home where my wife applied multiple bandages.
Coincidentally, a senior retirement community had asked me to give a talk on falls prevention. Falls were a common occurrence there. I accepted and, in doing research, found that there is an abundance of information from government sources, as falls are surprisingly frequent and costly.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion in a recent year, with Medicare and Medicaid bearing 75 percent of the costs. One in four older people falls every year, which doubles their risk of falling again. And one in five falls causes a serious injury such as a broken bone or head injury.
When older men fall, they are inclined to fracture their hips. Women often suffer head injuries. If you know you are going to fall, experts suggest you try to land on your bum or your thigh as these are the meatiest parts of your body and will help cushion the impact. And, if you are falling backwards, immediately tuck your chin against your chest to lessen the impact to your head.
Your home is where 50 percent to 70 percent of falls occur, especially against hard surfaces such as in the bathroom or on stairs. Having grab bars installed near the bath, shower, and toilet lessens falls. Keep abundant night lights. Recently a friend got up during the night in her upstairs bedroom, became disoriented and fell down her stairs, causing multiple spinal fractures that will impede her mobility for many months. Have handrails on both sides of stairways. I live in a condo where parking is on a separate floor. There are stairs but I decided that, at my age, it is safer to take the elevator.
According to the Washington State Department of Health, 19,866 Washington residents aged 65 and older were hospitalized for a fall related injury in 2020. And fall-related injuries accounted for 57 percent of all injury related deaths in adults aged 65+. Dementia increases the risk.
Securing electrical cords next to the wall and removing throw rugs is easy and safer. There is an abundance of additional falls prevention information online at the CDC, the National Institutes of Health and from the Washington State Department of Health.
AARP offers a free “HomeFit Guide” that can be downloaded online or requested by mail at www.aarp.org/homefit. It is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. The publication includes a room-by-room list with photos and suggestions on how to make your home both comfortable and safe. Also, go online to AARP’s “Striking a Balance to Avoid Dangerous Falls.” And don’t forget to have your vison and hearing tested, as these affect balance.
Of course, it helps to keep physically fit. Senior activity centers and community centers have multiple programs to increase balance and stability, such as tai chi and yoga.
No one thinks they will fall. But every year, three million are treated in emergency rooms because of falling. And it can cause death or leave one permanently disabled. Take action today to learn more, fix your home, and be careful crossing streets.
Contributor John Barnett is a long-time AARP volunteer. In addition, John served on the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services in 2005–2006 and was on the Advisory Council’s Planning and Allocations Committee.