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5 FAQs on fall prevention for the elderly

Falls are a potential source of harm regardless of age. Construction workers, for example, are often at risk of serious harm from falling while doing their jobs.

Generally speaking, however, when you're young and you fall, you usually get right back up again. It can even be a learning experience, part of developing resiliency and recognizing dangers. For the elderly, falls are quite another matter, a source of dread and - all too often - serious injuries that can even lead to death.

In this post, we'd like to remind you of important fall-prevention steps for senior citizens and their families to keep in mind. We'll use an FAQ format to present some basic facts we hope will be useful as you try to keep yourself and your family members safe.

How many older Americans get hurt in falls every year?

Nationally, the number of falls among older adults is staggering. Literally every second of every day, someone 65 or older is falling somewhere in the U.S. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the number of falls among older adults at 29 million, with seven million of those causing injuries.

Not surprisingly, falls are the leading cause of both death and of injuries to this age group.

Is the CDC doing anything to try to get caregivers, healthcare providers and others to get better at preventing falls?

Yes, the CDC has an initiative underway called STEADI. The abbreviation stands for Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries.

STEADI has several components, including improved training for healthcare providers and more information on effective techniques to screen elderly people for fall risks.

Besides improved training for healthcare providers, what are some other basic tips for preventing falls?

The Mayo Clinic encourages older Americans to discuss with their doctors how health conditions and side-effects of medication could contribute to falls.

Making an honest assessment of how these conditions affect someone's balance is important baseline information in developing a fall-prevention plan.

What would be an example of specific conditions that make falls more likely?

One example of a disease that enhances fall risk is Meniere's disease. Meniere's is a disorder of the inner ear that has severe negative effects on balance. Parkinson's disease is also well known for affecting balance and raising the risk of falling.

What else would be good to know?

There are some steps that seem obvious but are nonetheless important enough that they bear repeating. Maintaining physical activity as you or loved one ages is important. Without it, losses in muscle mass will accelerate substantially.

Choosing shoes that are comfortable and sensible is also important. So is making sure you don't have objects around your home that it might be easy to slip or trip on, such as loose floor rugs or coffee tables that stick out into places where you walk.

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