Falls Common And Serious Problem In Older Adults | KUOW News and Information

Falls Common And Serious Problem In Older Adults

Nov 5, 2015

If you’re an older person, a fall can be devastating. One in every three older adults falls each year, and the risk of falling increases with each decade.

Robert Long lives on Vancouver Island part of the year and walks as part of daily therapy to prevent falling. But late this summer, he couldn’t go out for a couple of weeks.

“We had a bear alert,” he explains, “a bear on the loose.”

Long is 84 years old and now he’s back to his routine. A year and a half ago he came to Harborview Medical Center’s fall prevention clinic after having fallen a few times.

Doctors determined he had balance issues. He worked with a physical therapist who gave him exercises to improve his balance.  Long says, “I have more confidence. So often there’s a temptation for you to look on the ground, but keeping your head up and keeping something on the horizon, that enables you to keep your balance also."

Long says he’s been fall-free since then.

Falls can lead to serious injuries and sometimes death, says Dr. Elizabeth Phelan. Phelan is director of Harborview’s fall prevention clinic. Even if the injury isn’t serious, the incident can create a downward spiral that can affect people’s independence and quality of life. 

“They may be afraid of falling and restrict their activity and then be at higher risk of more falls and worse outcomes ultimately,” she says. “It’s not something to sweep under the rug.”

Phelan says often there’s more than a single cause for falls, including medications or cognition. But they’re treatable. The good news, says Phelan, is that falls can be prevented with exercises like tai-chi that target balance and strength. 

Photo credit: Abdulsalam Haykal (CC BY 2.0)