Trips and Falls
By Andrew Morpurgo, M.D.
over the age of eighty-five make up the fastest growing age group in the United
States. While the “oldest old” account for only 1.5 percent of the general population, they use more health care services than
any other sector of the population.
of the most common injuries this age group suffers is broken bones as a result
of falling down. For every 1,000 people over age eighty-five, twenty-nine will
suffer a hip fracture in any given year. Hip fractures have a major impact on
quality of life and mortality among this population; healing can take from a
few weeks to more than a year, depending on the nature of the fracture and the
health of the individual. And one-quarter of the seniors who suffer hip
fractures die from complications within a year of the accident.
falls among the elderly can have such serious consequences, it’s important to
take positive steps to decrease the chances of falling and to mitigate possible
injuries should a spill occur. These positive steps fall under three general
headings: prevention, common sense, and safety.
Prevention: Use it or lose it
we reach the age of sixty-five, there really is a “use it or lose it”
physiology that takes hold, and our ability to do
certain things diminishes if we don’t stay active. All of the recent research
shows that regular exercise, a well-balanced diet, and nutritional supplements
are a good way to counteract weakness and frailty in older adults. Moreover,
exercise gives us confidence and prepares us physically to recover if we do
weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, helps to maintain bone and muscle
strength and improves coordination. I also recommend tai chi, which is an
ancient form of gentle exercise that improves coordination and balance for
people of all ages. If you have painful arthritic joints or trouble keeping
your balance, pool exercise is a safe, comfortable way to remain active. (Just
be sure to wear your pool shoes to reduce the risk of slipping.) Island Health
and Fitness is one of the local sites that offers classes in tai chi, as well
as pools for both aquatics and lap swimming.
Prevention includes seeing your doctor
and confusion resulting from medication cause close to 20 percent of falls. See
your doctor once a year to make sure your medications are up to date, your
blood pressure is under control, and your heart is healthy. Have your vision
checked and request bone-density screening for osteoporosis. If you have
osteoporosis, take your medication as prescribed to maintain bone health.
Use common sense
your doctor has prescribed a cane or walker for you, be sure to use it: a cane
will not prevent you from falling if it is sitting in the closet. It’s also a
good idea to run errands and complete chores, such as taking the garbage to the
curb, during daylight hours. Avoid standing on chairs with wheels when trying
to reach the top shelf. This advice may seem self-evident, but we do see broken
hips due to falls from chairs more often than we’d like.
Think about safety issues
percent of all falls are caused by tripping. For this reason, I am a firm
believer in automatic light timers that come on at dusk because they light the
way for you when you arrive home after dark. Place night lights strategically
in the bedroom, bathroom, and hallways. Get rid of throw rugs and extension
cords that cross the floor. Keep the doorway of your home free of snow and
leaves, as these pose a major slipping hazard. Adapt your tub and shower with
grab bars and a seat or small bench.
and more people are remaining healthy and active into their nineties. Exercise
and proper nutrition, regular check-ups, and making your living environment as
safe as possible will help keep you on your feet as you age.
Dr. Morpurgo is a
physiatrist, specializing in rehabilitation and physical medicine. He is the
medical director of rehabilitation services at Cayuga Medical Center.