September Is Fall Prevention Month

Falls Free Checkup - You Can Prevent Falls  NCOA
Falls Free Checkup – You Can Prevent Falls NCOA

This month VisionAware is offering a special fall prevention webinar on September 14 at 2:30 p.m. eastern.  Presenters will provide an overview of fall prevention programs with detail about the Matter of Balance program, including its adaptation for people with low vision. 

Falls Free Initiative 

The National Council on Aging has raised the alarm about falls through their Falls Free® Initiative, a national effort to address the growing public health issue of fall-related injuries and deaths in older adults. The network of falls coalitions provides public awareness of falls and offers and promotes fall prevention programs, which will be covered in the webinar.  Every September on the first day of fall, the Falls Free® Initiative promotes National Fall Prevention Awareness Week, which this year is September 20-24. 

Statistics About Falls 

  • According to the CDC, “Each year, one in four Americans 65 and older experiences a fall, the leading cause of injury among older adults, and impaired vision more than doubles this risk.      Every second of every day, an older adult (age 65+) falls in the U.S. 
  • Falls result in more than 3 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 32,000 deaths. 
  • Each year about $50 billion is spent on medical costs related to non-fatal fall injuries and $754 million is spent related to fatal falls.  

It’s not all about age. Be sure to read fall prevention is not just for seniors by peer Empish Thomas. It’s also not all about the numbers. The consequences of falls are far-reaching and life changing. As the National Council on Aging (NCOA) eloquently states, “In addition to pain and suffering, and the high cost of rehabilitation, falls with or without injury also carry a heavy quality of life impact. A growing number of older adults fear falling and, as a result, often self-limit activities and social engagements. These limitations can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness.” The good news is that you can do something about your risk of falling.   

Risk Factors for Falls 

Risk Factors can be both personal and environmental.  Audrey Demmitt, Visionaware Peer Advisor and R.N. discussed these risk factors in her post on creating a fall prevention plan.  

Personal Risk Factors  

  • Vision problems such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or wearing bifocals 
  • Difficulty with walking or balance 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Foot problems 
  • Heart rate or rhythm problems 
  • A history of falls and/or a fear of falling 
  • Taking multiple medications (4 or more) 
  • Dizziness 
  • Depression 
  • Health conditions such as arthritis, stroke, and diabetes 
  • Hurrying and rushing and not paying attention 

Environmental Factors

Picture of women’s feet and legs on steps marked with contrasting tape and the banister color contrasts to the wall
Stairs with Contrasting Railings and Steps
  • Stairs, no handrails, and no contrast on steps 
  • Household clutter 
  • Poor lighting 
  • Wet surfaces 
  • Cords in walkways 
  • Loose rugs and carpets 
  • Uneven pathways 

VisionAware addresses home modifications to make your home safer, provides a handy checklist to use, and a home modifications video with helpful hints. You may also benefit from watching the falls video series

But what about the personal factors?  As Audrey states, “It is largely up to you to prevent a debilitating fall. Take the first steps toward eliminating the fear of falling so you can live safely and confidently.”  In addition to the modifications suggested above, here are her suggestions for developing a plan: 

Developing a Personal Plan for Fall Prevention

  1. Talk to your healthcare provider. If they do not ask about your fall history, bring the subject up yourself. If you have had a fall or are afraid of falling, tell your healthcare provider. He/she can order a physical therapy and/or an occupational therapy evaluation to assess your strength, balance and home safety issues if needed. These professionals can design a training program and suggest changes to help reduce your fall risks. You may have to ask for these evaluations and most insurance plans cover these services.  
  1. Tell your provider that CDC offers STEADI, a fall prevention resource that helps health care providers integrate fall prevention in their routine clinical practice. 
  1. Review your medications with your health care professional. Know why you are taking each drug and the correct doses. Be aware of common side effects like drowsiness or dizziness. Ask to be prescribed the lowest dose possible and discuss whether any medications can be discontinued. Take your medicines as prescribed and report any side effects. Check with your provider before using herbal and over-the- counter products. 
  1. Wear sensible shoes. Evaluate your footwear for safety. High heels, loose slippers, slide-in styles, and slippery soled shoes can make you stumble and fall. Do not go bare foot or walk in stocking feet. Choose properly fitting, supportive and non-skid shoes to reduce the risk of falls. 
  1. Have your vision and hearing checked. Changes in vision and hearing can affect your balance and cause falls.  
  1. Consult with a vision rehabilitation therapist or audiologist as needed to learn strategies to keep you safe. 
  1. Use a mobility cane. If you are blind or have low vision and do not use a cane, consider orientation and mobility instruction. For more information on the importance of the cane in preventing falls, be sure to read Low Vision and the White Cane, a Tool for Fall Prevention
  1. Engage in healthy movement. Regular exercise improves muscle strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. Strong core and leg muscles have an “anti-gravity” effect and protect us against falls. Activities like walking, water classes, tai-chi, Pilates and yoga improve your overall condition and go a long way to prevent falls. If you have other medical conditions that limit your ability to participate in such activities, a physical therapist can help create a custom exercise program aimed at improving your balance, strength, and gait. Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to physical therapy. 
  1. Check out the fall prevention programs discussed below. 
  1. Take the NCOA Falls Free Checkup.  

Types of Fall Prevention Programs 

  1. Some programs are offered through the Area Agencies on Aging in each state. “Stepping On” and “A Matter of Balance” are two national evidence-based programs for older adults that have been adapted for people with vision loss. These and other fall prevention programs will be discussed in the webinar. Involve family members in a conversation and brainstorm which strategies fit your needs. NCOA offers a conversation guide for family members
  1. Contact your local hospital or senior center to ask if they offer classes 
  1. Check out the NCOA database of falls coalitions throughout the country

Additional Information 

Preventing Falls and Accidents As an Individual with Vision Loss – VisionAware 

Fall Prevention Course through OIB-TAC