Avoid the Fall, and the Fear

Falling down is a normal part of life.

Courtesy of McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

October 21, 2009


Everybody falls. Down the stairs, on the ice or over your own feet; it happens all the time.

For most people, falling is no big deal. But older adults face a higher risk for injuries.

One in three adults 65 and older stumble each year, and about one-third of those will suffer moderate to severe injuries, including head trauma and bone fractures.

"Sometimes falls aren't preventable, but we do need to try because the amount of life-changing difference in falls is increasing," said Dr. Christopher Espana, a geriatric specialist at DePaul Health Center in Bridgeton, Mo. "Meaning if you fall once it's fine, but if you keep on falling, when you break something it can spell the difference between an ambulatory individual who all of a sudden needs a hip replacement procedure and six months of physical therapy. Their lifestyle is not the same as before the fall."

Falls are the main factor in about 40 percent of nursing home admissions and the leading cause of death by accidental injury among older adults, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Winter months see more falls because of icy weather, but slip-ups are a year-round occurrence. In December, Missouri hospitals treated more than 7,000 falling injuries, compared to 5,000 in an average month. Falls are increasingly seen as a serious public health threat and the subject of more university-based research.

One researcher at St. Louis University studies the fear of falling as a health problem. Some older people can become so worried about falling that they lower their activity level. That can lead to muscle and bone weakness, which not only increases their risk of falling, but their risk of injury.