Watch your step

While one's chances of falling are slim, accidents are no laughing matter

While one's chances of falling are slim, accidents are no laughing matter

February 25, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Editor's note:

This is the first story in a series about putting health in perspective.

We're aware of the need to maintain our health, but sometimes we have mixed-up notions of which factors significantly influence our health and which are trivial. We drink diet soda to reduce our calorie consumption, but eat fast food five times a week. We use antiseptic soap, but pick up a spatula off the kitchen counter to flip a pancake. We complain that our kids are rotting their brains with video games, then lounge in front of the TV rather than play chess or read a book.

We'll examine the choices we face about diet, activity, mental involvement and spiritual balance. We'll look at the latest research. And we'll consider what's more important and what's less important in our effort to keep ourselves and our families happy and healthy.

Sometimes, walking in snow and ice can be just as dangerous as driving, especially if you're 65 or older.


"As we age, our sense of balance changes. So does depth perception," says Susan Abbott, physical therapist at Total Rehab at Robinwood, east of Hagerstown. "We lose bone strength, so when we fall, there's more of a tendency to fracture."

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, slip and falls are the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma among people 65 years and older, accounting for 1.8 million - more than half - of the 2.9 million accidental injuries reported for people in this age group.

Accidental falls also account for a significant percentage of deaths, according to the CDC. In 2005, the CDC reported that accidental falls killed 19,656 Americans. By comparison, motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause of death due to unintentional injury, with 43,667 dying in vehicle crashes.

In 2000, nonfatal slips and falls among older adults led to $19 billion in health care costs. Bone fractures were the most common injury, according to the CDC. The CDC projects costs will reach $43.8 billion by 2020.

In perspective

While slips and falls can create serious health problems, your chances of slipping and falling are slim.

Last year, 872 patients older than 65 went to Washington County Hospital's emergency room because of injuries sustained from accidentally falling, according to data provided by spokeswoman Nikki Jovel. Of those patients, 566 were admitted as inpatients.

The 872 fall patients represent about one-hundredth of 1 percent of the 65,330 ER patients that year. Nationally, the numbers are similar.

But the percentage of fall victims is higher among older residents. In 2005, 3.6 out of every 100 men age 65 or older suffered from nonfatal injuries from a slip and fall; the figure was 5.4 for every 100 women, according to CDC data. Prospects are even narrower for young people.


Abbott said living an active lifestyle can further reduce the chances of serious injury from falling. She offers some other tips to prevent slips and trips:

· Take up throw rugs. "You get caught on the edge of them. It's easy to topple over them," she said.

· Exercise regularly. This helps improve strength and balance. Indoor walking programs are a good way to get fit, though Abbott recommends checking with your physician first.

· Wear proper footwear. Wear shoes with good treads and support.

· Frequent fallers: Follow doctors' advice. Don't forgo the use of canes and other assistive devices.

Be aware of your surroundings. This is of special concern for diabetics who suffer from neuropathy, a nerve disorder that can lead to numbness in the hands, feet and legs.

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