Falls are the leading cause of injuries for those age 65 and older. According to Shari Kogan, MD, Medical Director of Geriatric Services at The Queen’s Medical Center, “16 percent of seniors treated in the Queen’s Emergency Department for a serious fall will be seen again for a second major fall within the next 12 months.” Dr. Kogan offers the following topics that seniors and their doctors should discuss.
- Exercise Regularly. Exercise makes your muscles and bones stronger, and can improve balance and coordination. Hawaii has plenty of outdoor options like water aerobics and tai chi, often available at community recreation centers. Ask your doctor what is appropriate for your level of fitness.
- Review Your Medications. Request a review of all the medicines you take to see if any might make you sleepy or dizzy, either alone or in combination. Many patients forget that alcohol is actually a drug. “If you drink any amount of alcohol, include it in your list,” says Dr. Kogan. “With increasing age, your liver and kidneys have more difficulty removing alcohol from your bloodstream. One drink at age 75 is the equivalent of three drinks at age 25.”
- Ask About a Comprehensive Fall Risk Assessment. Improving balance and maintaining mobility, strength, and flexibility are key. Ask your doctor if you should be referred to a physical therapist for a comprehensive fall risk assessment.
- Request a Falls Hazard Risk Assessment. Ask your doctor to have an occupational therapist visit your home for a ‘falls hazard risk assessment.’ Most insurance companies, including Medicare, will cover this expense if you have fallen before.
- Get an Annual Eye Exam. Without an eye exam every year, you could be wearing the wrong glasses or develop a condition like glaucoma, macular degeneration, or cataracts that affect your vision. Poor vision increases your chances of falling.
- Stay Hydrated. Dehydration can lead to dizziness upon standing. Drinking water is one of the simplest fall preventive efforts you can take.
- Check Vitamin D and Bone Density Levels. Both easy to check and go hand-in-hand toward creating strong bones. Weight bearing exercises also increase bone mass.
- Consider a Home Alert System. If you live alone, you might think about investing in a home alert system so you can get timely medical attention in case you fall.
- Ask about Canes, Walkers and Wheelchairs. These are not necessary or right for everyone. Many of these items should be professionally fitted and require training for proper use, which only a physical therapist, doctor, or nurse should provide. Don’t just buy one at the drugstore. Instead, ask your doctor which (if any) you might benefit from using, and which ones your insurance company will pay for.
Talking with your doctor about fall prevention strategies can be an important first step toward ensuring a long, healthy life. To find a physician, call the Queen’s Referral Line at 808-691-7117.