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Falls Pose Highest Risk of Injury to Older Americans

balanceWith one in four Americans aged 65 and older falling each year—and more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually—falls represent a serious threat to seniors’ physical and mental health, safety, independence, and even financial security. UMMC based audiologist Denise Pouncey encourages everyone to take proactive steps to reduce their risk and loved ones’ risk of falls.

“Our balance system helps us walk, run, and move without falling, and many people don’t realize that much of our balance system is controlled within the inner ear,” explains Dr. Pouncey. “An undiagnosed balance issue can put someone at higher risk of falling. Evaluation by an audiologist can help identify a balance problem. If a problem is identified, balance rehabilitation can help improve daily functioning and reduce the risk of fall.”

In addition to balance issues, factors that put someone at risk of falling include home/environmental issues such as poor lighting, steep or damaged stairs, and uneven floor surfaces inside (e.g., moving from carpet to hard wood) and outside (e.g., a sidewalk)—as well as health issues such as changes to hearing or vision, muscle weakness or numbness, typical aging, certain medications, and conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis.

Falls are a major public health challenge. Consider these statistics:

  • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries
  • Falling one time doubles a person’s chances of falling a second time.
  • The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages—and may reach almost $68 billion by 2020.

 “One of the unfortunate realities of falls is that for some people, especially those who have fallen before, a fear of falling will develop. This puts a person at risk for more falls, reduces their ability to be self-sufficient, and can lead to social isolation and depression,” Dr. Pouncey continued. “Again, this is why prevention is key.”

UMMC Ear, Nose & Throat offers this advice for preventing falls: 

  • Get your hearing checked. Good hearing helps you notice sounds that can warn of danger.
  • Keep your vision sharp. Have your eyes checked yearly to make sure your prescription is correct.
  • Exercise regularly. This can help improve strength and balance.
  • Know your meds. People who take four or more medications may be at risk of falling. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about potential side effects.
  • Identify (and address) home fall hazards. About half of all falls happen at home. Poor lighting, clutter, slippery bathroom environments, and more pose potential hazards.
  • Make stairs and thresholds safer. Use contrasting colors at steps or thresholds—for example, on dark wooden floors, paint the edge of the steps a lighter color.
  • Keep emergency numbers in large print close by. Consider bringing a phone with you into the bathroom or wearing an emergency alert wristband or neck pendant should a fall occur.

 For more information, or to schedule a hearing or balance assessment, UMMC Ear, Nose & Throat at (601) 984-5160.