Michael D. Taylor, MD Chairman, NOTS Trauma Prevention Committee
"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves."
- William Shakespeare
Accidents happen. When a person falls, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the fall was inevitable. A lot of people fall, often resulting in injury. Falls remain one of the most common reasons to be admitted to a trauma center in the United States. According to the CDC, more than 700,000 hospital admissions every year are a result of fall-related injuries, accounting for over $30 billion dollars in direct medical costs. Many people never seek care or tell their doctor about it, but twenty to thirty percent will suffer significant injuries. Older people are more likely to be injured in a fall—over the age of 65, one out of every three will fall. Those who do are almost certain to fall again. Accidents happen.
But are these really accidents? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines accident as “an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance” or “lack of intention or necessity, chance.” It’s associated with destiny, fortune, or fate, and that’s a problem—the perception that accidents are unforeseen and random, that the individual who falls is a victim of bad luck. Sure, sometimes that spill is just a fluke, but chalking something up to bad luck implies that it can’t be prevented. There are a number of modifiable factors associated with increased risk of falling, including:
- Decreased muscle mass—muscle mass typically declines with age. This process begins by age 30! Inactivity accelerates the process. Decreases in strength and balance lead to falls.
- Medications—many medications can increase the risk of falling due to effects on blood pressure or level of consciousness.
- Tripping hazards—inadequate lighting, slippery or uneven surfaces, and small obstacles are just some of the hazards that can lead to a tumble.
- Vision changes—if you can’t see the obstacle clearly, then you’ll have trouble avoiding it.
There are many ways to decrease the risk of falling:
Exercise regularly—maintaining strength and balance are key. In particular, Tai Chi has been shown to decrease the risk of falling by as much as 55%. There are many different forms of Tai Chi, so make sure that you check with the instructor before signing up for a course.
- Review your medications—ask your doctor or pharmacist to look over both prescription and over-the-counter medications for side effects and interactions that may lead to low blood pressure, dizziness, or drowsiness.
- Make your home safer—Remove hazards or rearrange furniture to reduce the risk of tripping. Non-skid materials can be applied to slick surfaces or under rugs. Install grab bars and hand railings where needed. Color contrasts can be used to help make steps/stairs easier to identify. Many checklists are available on-line to help you evaluate your home, and you may be eligible to have a home-health nurse help identify hazards in your home. Some communities even have resources available to help pay for home modifications.
Get your eyes checked—over the age of 65, an annual eye exam is recommended.
It can be hard to make these modifications, especially when it comes changing things around the home. Many people fear that these changes represent a loss of independence. But the reality is that people who suffer fall-related injuries frequently require long-term care in an extended care facility. So, take control of your own destiny to reduce your risk of falling and stay independent.
Check out this Injury Prevention Website:
HealthyPeople.gov is a science-based public health initiative with 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. For three decades, Healthy People has established benchmarks and monitored progress over time in order to:
- Encourage collaborations across communities and sectors.
- Empower individuals toward making informed health decisions.
- Measure the impact of prevention activities.
Injuries and violence are widespread in society. Both unintentional injuries and those caused by acts of violence are among the top 15 killers for Americans of all ages. Many people accept them as “accidents,” “acts of fate,” or as “part of life.” However, most events resulting in injury, disability, or death are predictable and preventable. The Injury and Violence Prevention objectives for 2020 represent a broad range of issues which, if adequately addressed, will improve the health of the Nation.
Why Is Injury and Violence Prevention Important?
Injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 44, and a leading cause of disability for all ages, regardless of sex, race/ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. More than 180,000 people die from injuries each year, and approximately 1 in 10 sustains a nonfatal injury serious enough to be treated in a hospital emergency department.
Beyond their immediate health consequences, injuries and violence have a significant impact on the well-being of Americans by contributing to:
- Premature death
- Poor mental health
- High medical costs
- Lost productivity
The effects of injuries and violence extend beyond the injured person or victim of violence to family members, friends, coworkers, employers, and communities.