Deadly Falls in Older Americans Are Rising. Here’s How to Prevent Them. – Smart Media Magazine

Deadly Falls in Older Americans Are Rising. Here’s How to Prevent Them.

As the population ages, the number of older Americans who die following a fall is rising. A study published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA found that for people over 75, the rate of mortality from falls more than doubled from 2000 to 2016.

Researchers analyzed information obtained from death certificates maintained by the federal government’s National Center for Health Statistics. In 2016, the rate of death from falls for people 75 and older was 111 per 100,000 people, they found. In 2000, that rate was 52 per 100,000 people.

Elizabeth Burns, a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was an author of the study, said the reason for the increase was unclear.

“The most likely reason is that people are living longer with conditions that in the past they might have died from,” she said. In addition, she continued, older adults are on medications that increase their risk of falling. Women are slightly more likely to fall than men, but men are slightly more likely to die as a result of a fall.

Medications, especially those that help with sleep, can compromise balance. Dr. Eckstrom said benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax are especially bad.

“Metabolism slows in older adults, so toxicity to benzos builds up, which can cause dizziness,” she said.

The same goes for non-benzodiazepines such as Ambien. Sedating antihistamines such as Benadryl and Advil PM are also bad for balance.

“If everybody got off the sleeping pills, it would help a lot,” Dr. Eckstrom said. As an alternative, she recommended melatonin to her patients, which she called a safe and effective sleep aid.

Eyesight is a crucial component when it comes to falls. Avoid bifocal or progressive lenses when walking outside. “If you’re wearing bifocals and stepping down off a curb, that changes your depth perception,” said Ms. Burns, who recommends a single-focus lens for walking outside.

Then there’s footwear. Fashion, said Dr. Lipsitz, needs to take a back seat to function. “No high heels,” he said. Dr. Eckstrom agreed.

Anything the foot slides into is a terrible idea, she said: “Avoid cute slide-in sandals.”

All shoes should have a back, and a sole with good tread. Slippers, too, can be bad. “Slippers make you slip,” said Dr. Eckstrom.

Are you too proud to use a cane or walker? Get over it. “If your doctor has recommended a walker, use it,” Dr. Eckstrom said. “It will allow you to be more independent for longer.”

The accumulated clutter of a lifetime can be lethal. Get rid of small scatter rugs in your home, and eliminate extension cords that stretch across a floor.

Pets can also be a hazard. “It’s so easy to trip over your pet,” said Dr. Eckstrom.

Take a closer look at the height of thresholds between rooms; it takes just a fraction of an inch to cause a trip. Keep a light on at night for visual access to the bathroom.

Hydration is a good way to fight dizziness. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, said Dorothy Baker, a senior research scientist in geriatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.

“Don’t wait until you’re desperate to go to the bathroom and need to rush,” Dr. Baker said. There’s a bonus to frequent bathroom trips, she added. “Doing that sit-to-stand is really good exercise and good for balance. Do a few extras while you’re there.”

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