If you had to take a guess, what would you say is the leading cause of traumatic injuries annually? Maybe car crashes? Or what about violent crime?
At Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, it is actually preventable falls. Like many Level 1 Trauma Centers across the nation, preventable falls account for a majority of trauma admissions, surpassing even motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents.
This is due, in a large part, to an aging population. One in three elderly adults fall each year, and 60 percent of these falls occur in private homes.
Nearly 90 percent of Carilion's 1,635 fall-related Emergency Department visits in 2021 were for people age 55 or older.
“A lot of elderly patients come in due to ground-level falls,” said trauma nurse specialist Sarah Dinwiddie, R.N. “They are just doing something like walking across the house to get to the bathroom and they fall.”
As the population grows older, health conditions, physical changes and even medications can increase the risk of falling.
"Older adults should be sure to discuss their medications with their physician," said Ottilia Lewis, Carilion Clinic's trauma outreach coordinator. "Some medicines can increase your risk for falling."
As most falls are preventable, there are a couple of easy safety tips and precautions you can take to minimize risk for yourself and your loved ones.
The number one way to prevent falls is to stay in motion. Exercise and movement can help prevent falling by improving motor skills, core strength and balance. Walking and gentle exercises help build and maintain strength and coordination. All of these can help you keep you independent and at home.
“Research is telling us exercise is the best method of fall prevention,” Sarah says. “Walk in circles at your house or outside; even simple chair raises can keep someone strong and healthy.”
Carilion Wellness offers free classes for seniors to improve strength and flexibility and to help keep seniors active. Talk with your primary care physician to see what types of exercise and movement are right for you.
Keep paths clear to frequently used rooms in your house, such as the bathroom and bedroom. Clear clutter from the floors and be cautious of trip hazards such as animals or children. Remove throw rugs as they can increase your risk of falling and keep items in easy to reach places. Wear comfortable shoes with good soles, avoiding big slippers and shoes with slick soles.
Check Your Vision
Get regular eye exams, especially as you age. If you have glasses, remember to wear them to help better spot any fall hazards. Turn the lights on and avoid walking in the dark. You may also want to install night lights or motion-activated lights in hallways and bathrooms as an extra precaution.
Remaining independent can be a concern for an aging population, but being safe by preventing avoidable falls is an easy step to help ease the anxiety.
“Slow down, de-clutter your house, exercise and take care of yourself," said Sarah. "These are crucial steps to help you or your loved ones stay home and stay independent.”