by: Dr. A. R. Scopelliti
Perhaps you know someone who’s been injured, disabled or even killed by a fall. Or maybe you’ve taken a spill yourself and are afraid the next one could be worse.
As we age, time takes its toll on the bodily systems that keep us balanced and standing upright. For example, you may not see or hear as well, which can affect your balance and coordination.
Inherent to the aging process, we see slowing of reaction time, making it more difficult to move away from oncoming pedestrians or adjust to icy patches on a sidewalk, etc. Normal declines in muscle strength and joint flexibility can hinder your ability to stand, walk and rise from chairs.
In 2003, more than 1.8 million seniors were treated in hospital emergency rooms for fall-related injuries and of those treated, more than 421,000 were hospitalized. You needn’t let the fear of falling rule your life, however, as many falls and fall-related injuries are preventable.
Researchers have identified a number of modifiable risk factors that increase the likelihood of a fall, including medication side effects, loss of limb sensation, poor eyesight, tripping hazards within the home, and lack of physical activity. At least one-third of all falls involve hazards within the home. Most commonly, people trip over objects on the floor.
Work with a family member or health care provider to evaluate your home for potential hazards and minimize your risk of injury. Consider a general exercise program that includes activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi, an exercise whose participants were almost twice less likely to experience a fall. Exercise reduces your risk of falls by improving your strength, balance, coordination and flexibility.
Your risk of falling may increase if you take certain prescription medications to treat age-related medical conditions. Many medications have side effects that can affect your brain function and lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.
The number one prescribed drug for dizziness, meclizine, comes to mind here. Taking multiple medications magnifies the risk, as does combining prescription drugs with alcohol, over-the-counter allergy or sleeping medications, painkillers, or cough suppressants. Ask your prescribing physician or pharmacist to review your medications and reduce your chances of falling by using the lowest effective dosage. Also, discuss the need for walking aids or supports while taking medications that can affect balance.
Reduced vision increases risk of falls. Age-related vision diseases, including cataracts and glaucoma, can alter your depth perception, visual acuity and susceptibility to glare. These limitations hinder your ability to move safely. It is important to have regular check-ups with your ophthalmologist. Also, regularly clean your glasses to improve visibility.
Osteoporosis makes bones less resistant to stress and more likely to fracture. Caused by hormonal changes, calcium and vitamin D deficiencies, and a decrease in physical activity, osteoporosis is a chief cause of fractures in older adults, especially women. To help limit the effects of osteoporosis, be sure to eat or drink sufficient calcium.
Falls don’t have to be a part of getting older. Our office offers free fall risk screening. Don’t wait until you end up in the hospital to find out your fall could have been prevented. Take advantage of this offer, as the first part of preventing a fall in knowing if you are at risk.
Dr. Scopelliti is a Fellow of the American College of Functional Neurology and a Fellow of the American Board of Vestibular Rehabilitation. He is currently president of NJCCN. His practice is located at the 279 Medical Arts Bldg at Monmouth Medical Center, in Long Branch, NJ. His office focuses on the drug free management of patients with vertigo, dizziness, imbalance, presyncope, dystonia, ADD ADHD, various stages of coma, and other neurologic as well as behavioral/cognitive disorders. Dr. Scopelliti has also authored several Lectures and Software for Neurologic and Vestibular Rehabilitation. Dr. Scopelliti has a wealth of information updated weekly on the web at Jersey Shore Regional Center For Vertigo, Dizziness, Dystonia and ADD ADHD. Visit Dr. Scopelliti’s Guestbook to see what real patients have had to say.
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