In the United States, about one in four adults (30%) age 65 and older, report falling each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This results in about 30 million falls each year. While not all falls result in an injury, about 38% of those who fall reported an injury that required medical treatment or restricted their activity for at least one day, resulting in an estimated 7 million fall injuries.
Often, falls are caused by dizziness or balance disorders, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV is the most common cause of vertigo. In fact, this condition will affect approximately 50 percent of individuals over 70 years of age at least once in their lives.
BPPV typically occurs with a change in head or body position. Episodes last less than one minute. This condition is caused by changes in the balance portion of the inner ear. Calcium carbonate particles, or otoconia, which the ear uses as part of its gravity detector, are normally found in the inner ear. These particles can become displaced and travel into one of the ear’s semicircular canals, where they do not belong. BPPV may be the result of the natural aging process, illness, a change in medication, or head trauma. Often, no known cause for BPPV can be identified, but we can treat it successfully at Associated Audiologists.
Whether you have BPPV or not, winter, with icy and slick conditions, can make falling an even greater risk, no matter what your age.
Here are some suggestions from the National Institutes of Health to help you prevent falls.
- Take small steps to maintain your center of gravity.
- Keep your hands free to help with balance.
- Use a cane or walker if needed.
- Wear rubber-soled, non-slip shoes for the best traction.
- Watch where you step. Look out for “black” ice, and walk on the grass when sidewalks are slick.
- Throw ice melt, salt or kitty litter on icy sidewalks for traction.
- Keep rooms free of clutter, especially floors.
- Wear flat or low-heeled shoes.
- Do not walk in socks, stockings, or slippers.
- Be sure rugs have skid-proof backs or are tacked to the floor.
- Be sure the stairs are well lit and have rails on both sides.
- Put grab bars on bathroom walls near the tub, shower, and toilet.
- Use a non-skid bathmat in the shower or tub.
- Keep a flashlight next to your bed.
- Use a sturdy step stool with a handrail and wide steps.
- Add more lights in rooms.
- Buy a cordless phone or cell phone so that you don’t have to rush to the phone when it rings and so that you can call for help if you fall.
In addition to making your home safer to prevent falls, you also should tell your doctor if you fall, do regular strength and balance exercises, and have your vision checked regularly.
There are also many new technologies available to help in case of a fall. For example, some hearing aid technology now utilizes fall detection. There are also neck-worn alerting systems in case of a fall or emergency that can be utilized. If you have dizziness, vertigo, imbalance, or history or fear of falling, you may benefit from a comprehensive equilibrium evaluation.