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Falls are very common and are a leading cause of injury. According to the National Safety Council, 8.9 million emergency room visits per year are due to falls (NSC). Some falls are serious or life threatening. This can be especially true for the sick or elderly.
The very young and the elderly are most at risk for falls. The elderly often lose strength, flexibility, and balance with age. Children have not yet fully developed strength and flexibility. These factors make falls more common.
Falls can be caused by a variety of factors. Often, a fall is a result of a lack of balance. Poor health and certain diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, can cause balance problems. Nervous system disorders, thyroid issues, and circulation problems are also known to affect balance. Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs can also impact balance, leading to falls.
Another cause of falls is dizziness. This can result from illness, eye problems, hearing issues, or intoxication. Certain medications can cause side effects like dizziness and a loss of balance. These medications include those for high blood pressure, insomnia, diabetes, or depression.
Falls are common in walkways with debris or clutter, on uneven surfaces, wet surfaces, or stairs.
In otherwise healthy people, falls can cause injuries including muscle strains, joint sprains, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and head injuries. The severity of the injury depends on the type of fall, the distance fallen, and the surface landed on.
If you suspect that a person who has fallen has a bone fracture, a concussion, or another type of serious injury, seek medical attention.
There are many ways to prevent falls.
It is important to exercise regularly and maintain muscle and bone strength. You can maintain bone strength with weight-bearing exercises and by getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Yoga and other physical activities can help to improve balance.
At home, remove any obstacles in walkways and make sure that all areas are properly lit. Stairwells should have handrails for safety. Use nonslip mats under rugs, and clean up any spills or leaking water immediately. If you have children, install gates at the top and bottom of staircases.
Wear shoes that have proper grip, and avoid uneven areas such as cracked sidewalks and cobblestone paths.
Get your eyesight and hearing checked every year. Talk to your doctor if you have problems with your feet or legs that could cause unsteadiness.
Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Medically reviewed on: Sep 30, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA
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