Jose Luis Orihuela April 9, 2015

Have you ever tripped and fallen down in public? It s embarrassing enough if you\'re young and fit, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, falling is the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries of adults aged 65 and older. If you, or someone close to you, is approaching or recently entered that age group, it s important to understand the causes of falls and know that there are ways to prevent such incidents from occurring.

A slip and fall can happen anywhere, even in your own home, driveway, or yard. They also occur commonly in public locations: malls, grocery stores, libraries, theaters, restaurants, office buildings, golf courses, and swimming pools.

The most obvious causes of falls are slipping on debris or wet pavement, or tripping over an obstacle. Other causes include health issues, such as dizziness from a change in medication; changes in eyesight or hearing which can lead to loss of depth-perception or imbalance; osteoporosis which affects bone strength and stability; and leg or foot pain which can cause changes in gait. Environmental conditions can also lead to falls, such as poor lighting, loose floor-coverings, or lack of proper handrails or grab-bars.

Most people think first of hip fractures when they think of injuries from falls. Fractures are also common in the arms, hands, legs, feet, and ankles. Head trauma and spinal injuries are also frightening injuries that can be caused by a fall, and a recent article in the Journal of Neurotraumapointed to an increasing rate of fall-related spinal cord injuries among older adults. Less serious injuries from falls may include lacerations and bruises, and of course, damage to the ego.

Injuries from falls can lead to long hospital stays and mounting medical bills. If the victim is still working, there may a resulting loss of income as well. Fear of future falling incidents may instill a fear of going out at all, adding to loss of mobility and independence. This can make moving into an assisted-living facility the only option for many seniors who might otherwise have been able to continue living on their own.

Fortunately there are several ways to avoid and prevent falling and the resultant injuries. First and foremost is a checkup with your doctor. Tell him about any near-falls you have had, and review your list of medications. Discuss the side effects of your medications and whether they may causes dizziness or instability. Also visit your eye doctor and make sure that your prescription is up-to-date.

Keep your weight under control. Many activities which help with weight management will also improve your strength, balance, and flexibility. Your doctor can work with you to find a form of exercise that is safe for you to do on your own, or may be able to recommend a group exercise program or health coach who can tailor an exercise regimen to your abilities.

Take advantage of physical aids to mobility. Wear sensible, low-heeled shoes with rubber soles and tight laces or Velcro fasteners. If your doctor has recommended a cane, walker, or wheelchair, make sure you understand proper usage, and don t leave it at home. Use handrails and grab-bars in public places, and have them installed in your own home.

If you\'ve been lying down or sitting for a long period, be sure to stand up slowly to avoid dizziness. Before you head outside, check the weather forecast, or at least look outside so you can avoid icy or wet walkways and parking lots. If you live alone, make it a habit to check in daily with a family member or neighbor. If you do fall, it s reassuring to know that someone will check on you if they haven t heard from you.