Across the country, state governments, senior centers and older adults will observe Falls Prevention Awareness Day today, September 23, the first day of fall. Thirty-five states are participating, joining the 70 national organizations, professional associations and federal agencies that comprise the Falls Free™ Coalition to raise awareness of the dangers of fall-related injury and death among older adults. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries for Americans 65 years of age and older. More than 18,000 older Americans die every year because of a fall, and the rate has risen dramatically over the last 10 years. The US spends an estimated $19 billion annually on medical care related to falls; in 2008 over 2.1 million older adults were treated in emergency departments for fall related injuries.
“When an older adult falls, it can begin a cascade of events affecting quality of life, including a loss of independence, reduced mobility, and even earlier admission to a nursing home,” said Lynn Beattie, vice president of Injury Prevention with the National Council on Aging, lead of the National Falls Free™ Initiative. “An injurious fall can also affect caregivers, family members and even entire communities. “But the good news is falls are largely preventable.”
Studies show that a combination of interventions can significantly reduce falls in the older adult population. Experts recommend a physical activity regimen with balance, strength training, and flexibility components; in the case of a history of falls or balance and gait difficulties, consulting with a health professional about getting a fall risk assessment; having medications reviewed periodically; getting eyes checked annually; and making sure the home environment is safe and supportive. Senior centers and other community-based organizations serving older adults across the United States are offering programs like A Matter of Balance and Stepping On, along with Tai Chi classes, to help older adults gain the strength, improved balance, and confidence to help them live healthier lives and preserve their independence.
Some of the state-organized events planned for National Falls Prevention Awareness Day include:
Among the companies participating is Philips Lifeline. Committed to reducing falls in older Americans it has sponsored learnnottofall.com, an educational website that includes an online course in fall prevention, as well as tips and solution flyers for consumers to assess and reduce their fall risk. Through this website, seniors and their caregivers have access to guides, prevention toolkits and much more. In addition to other causes, poor vision may increase the risk of falls, say the experts at another participating group, Prevent Blindness America. The Los Angeles Latino Eye Study showed that those with impaired central vision were at almost three times higher risk for falls with injury than those with no visual impairment. Eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults, effect central vision. In addition, seniors who had impaired peripheral vision, a common effect of eye diseases such as glaucoma, were almost 1.5 times at greater risk for falls with injury. Prevent Blindness America strongly recommends that all adults learn how to care for the health of their eyes. This includes getting fully dilated eye exams by an eyecare professional. Many people are not aware that they have an eye disease until they notice their vision changing. “By detecting and treating eye disease early, vision loss can be greatly diminished, and therefore, help to decrease the risk of falls,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America.
Signs of possible eye problems include:
• Unusual trouble adjusting to dark rooms
• Difficulty focusing on near or distant objects
• Squinting or blinking due to unusual sensitivity to light or glare
• Change in color of iris
• Red-rimmed, encrusted or swollen lids
• Recurrent pain in or around eyes
• Double vision
• Dark spot at the center of viewing
• Lines and edges appear distorted or wavy
• Excess tearing or "watery eyes"
• Dry eyes with itching or burning
• Seeing spots or ghost-like images
For more information contact Prevent Blindness America go to preventblindness.org. For more information on falls prevention, go to http://www.ncoa.org/improving-health/falls-prevention/