Due to the stereotypes perpetuated by rampant ageism in our society, most of us don’t associate aging with positive images.
But, aging doesn’t have to be negative.
Our mission as therapists is to change the way people think of aging. When we have clients come in, initially we only hear about the downsides of aging. The difficulty with walking. The loss of strength. Chronic pain. And one of the topics no one walks to talk about, balance issues and falls.
The first point we want to highlight is that none of the above have to be a normal part of aging! And if you are experiencing balance problems or falls, start talking to someone about them right this minute. With our aging population, this is an issue that has a major impact on the health trajectory of the country in multiple ways.
In 2015, the costs directly related to fall injuries in older adults totaled over $31 billion to Medicare alone. That’s right. $31 billion. And this does not include costs to other insurance companies or all the secondary costs that come as a result of falls, including the need for more services and specialized care or having to move a family member into a facility from their home.
Let’s take a further look at the numbers.
One out of every four adults over the age of 65 falls each year. Having one fall doubles the risk of having another. Adults over the age of 75 are the highest risk group for recurrent head injuries due to repeated falls.
These are staggering statistics and impact each and every one of us, regardless of age. As a greater proportion of our population ages, these numbers are expected to rise. The burden of this preventable problem falls on family members, younger generations, and our already taxed healthcare system.
First, we should clarify: falls are NOT a normal part of aging. Everyone falls, but excessive falls become a major problem. When you throw other chronic conditions into the mix, such as diabetes and osteoporosis that increase the risk of severe injuries with falls, the problem is compounded.
Falls are not fun to talk about, so they often go unreported to health care providers. And pride often gets in the way.
They may also go under-reported because there can be some confusion around the definition of a fall. So, to clarify a fall is defined as ANY uncontrolled descent. Even if you caught yourself on a chair or a piece of furniture, it’s still a fall. Even if you don’t think you injured yourself, it’s still a fall.
It’s vital that we begin to talk more about falls and erase the stigma around talking about falls. Today. Because we can’t solve a problem that isn’t being talked about.
The list of risk factors for falls is extensive and includes anything from fear of falling, to footwear choices, to certain medications.
The solution to preventing falls is simple in theory, but not so easy to implement. Staying physically active throughout the lifespan is the first step in falls prevention. More and better movement is the answer.
However, this solution puts more responsibility on the person, an active solution rather than a passive one. In a medical system where passive interventions are pushed heavily, including medication and surgery, it can be difficult to start the conversation on taking ownership of our health but that is exactly what’s needed.
If you have no concerns about falling, get on and off the floor every day as much as possible! Pay more attention to your movement and the variety of your movement. Find ways to challenge your balance every single day.
The next step is to talk to your loved ones about falls. If you have concerns, reach out to health care providers for help. Trained movement professionals, such as physical or occupational therapists are an essential part of developing plans to keep people active safely. How can you facilitate this important conversation today?