Everybody falls. Babies and kids, teenagers and grownups. It’s us vs. gravity. And gravity always wins.
But when older adults fall, it’s much harder for them to get up and bounce back than it is for a toddler or a teenager.
Here’s what happened to 78-year old Diane. She was standing on a chair, reaching for the top shelf of her closet, lost her balance, crashed to the floor and dislocated her shoulder. A very painful injury and a long recovery.
Bob, age 75, was doing chores in his garage when he tripped on a power cord, crashed to the cement floor and hit his head. Fortunately, it was a mild injury, and after medical treatment, Bob recovered. But his injury could have been much worse.
And, while all of us have need to guard against falling, older adults need to be doubly careful. Once injured in a fall, they’re twice as likely to hurt themselves in another falling accident.
Falls cause nearly half of the traumatic brain injuries suffered by older adults in Utah. In the two-year span of 2013 to 2015, more than 500 older Utahns lost their lives because of injuries related to falls.
What happened to Bob is typical of what happens to one in every four older adults in Utah.
And these accidents cost a lot of money.
In 2014, fall-related injuries racked up $156 million in emergency rooms, hospitals and rehab facilities. Unless we learn how to prevent fall-related injuries, the cost will more than double in the next 20 years.
Doing simple things will make all of us safer and allow us to stay active and independent.
• Make your home safe. Remove trip hazards, improve lighting, and install grab bars and railings.
• Enlist family and friends’ support for household chores.
• Have your eyes checked every year. Good vision matters.
• Review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist.
• Attend an exercise or balance class in your community.
Remember, falls are not an inevitable part of aging.
During the 2017 session of the Utah Legislature, Sen. Jani Iwamoto and Rep. Stewart Barlow co-sponsored a joint resolution to create the Utah Falls Prevention Alliance, a statewide collaboration of public and private stakeholders anchored by Utah’s Department of Health and Commission on Aging. The resolution passed both chambers with bipartisan support.
This alliance, co-chaired by Iwamoto and Sally Aerts, is committed to increasing public awareness and finding solutions designed to prevent falls and injuries in older adults.
With winter in full swing, another word of caution: Shirley, 83, who attempted to retrieve her garbage can by walking down her icy driveway, slipped and broke her hip. Remember to avoid unsafe walking conditions during inclement weather.
You can find resources that will help you become informed and find good guidance on fall prevention at ucoa.utah.edu/fpa/.
Gravity always wins, whether you’re young or old or somewhere in between. There’s a reason it’s called the “law.” Prevention, education and awareness will help even the score.
The next quarterly meeting of the Commission on Aging/Falls Prevention Alliance will be held at the Capitol Board Room at 11 a.m. Wednesday. It is open to the public.
Sally Aerts is a physical therapist and co-chairwoman of the Utah Falls Prevention Alliance. Rob Ence is executive director of the Utah Commission on Aging. Janice Evans is a local writer and former television journalist.