Fall frequently? Your doctor can help.
St. Joseph’s/Candler primary care physician and geriatrician Dr. Andrew Mrugala explains causes of falls and ways to prevent them
Each year, millions of older adults (65 and older) fall. That’s more than one out of four older people who fall every year. Less than half tell their doctor, but falling once doubles your chances of falling again.
There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and there are steps to take to reduce your chances of falling.
“There are a lot of different things that go into falling, and it’s important to understand what the underlying problem is to prevent falls from happening,” says Dr. Andrew Mrugala, St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care in Pooler physician and board-certified geriatrician.
Related Article: Why should I or my parents see a geriatric doctor?
If you’ve had one fall in the last six months or two falls in the last 12 months, you’re considered to be at an elevated risk for falling, Dr. Mrugala says.
Sometimes falls happen by accident – the dog ran out in front of you or the kids left their toys in the middle of the floor. But if you are having multiple falls a year and there’s uncertainty as to why it keeps happening, then you should talk to your doctor about it, Dr. Mrugala says.
“We can work through what happened with each fall, what precipitated it, and what you can do to prevent it.”
What may be causing your falls?
Frequent falls are often a symptom of an underlying problem, Dr. Mrugala says. Two people can fall for completely different reasons. People with diabetes, for example, may have neuropathy in their feet and don’t feel where their feet are, making it easier to trip.
Related Article: Peripheral neuropathy: Understanding diabetes effects on your feet
Someone with Parkinson’s disease may not be able to move quickly enough or react fast enough in a situation that causes them to fall.
If pneumonia left you in the hospital for several weeks, you may be weak upon going home and not strong enough to do the things that are required to stay on your feet.
Older adults tend to have more cases of arthritis or osteoporosis that can sometimes make them weaker and more prone to falling.
“The main consequences of falls that we tend to worry about are broken bones and head injuries and brain bleeds,” Dr. Mrugala says. “A part of the assessment if you are at risk of falls, especially for women, is being up to date on things like osteoporosis screening.”
Related Article: What is a DEXA scan?
How can I prevent falls?
A lot of different suggestions can be made to prevent people from falling, Dr. Mrugala says, but one of the first and best lines of defense is physical therapy. Depending on the underlying problem, a physical therapist can teach you exercises to make you strong and techniques to reduce the chances of you falling.
For example, they may suggest a checklist that you run through in your head before sitting or standing. Are you making sure both of your hands are on the chair and both feet on the ground to support you standing up? Before you sit down, are you putting your hand on the back of the chair to make sure it’s in position for you to sit?
In addition to physical therapy, you may want to do an assessment of your home.
- Make sure throw rugs and mats are either removed or secure to the floor
- Make sure there’s good lighting in hallways and stairs
- Remove or shorten any loose cords from electronics or lamps
- Wear shoes with grips in them – don’t walk around the house in socks if you are a fall risk
- Use proper leashes and harnesses when walking the dog
Related Article: Hand therapy can help when Fido trips you up
Not every fall causes major injury, but they are serious enough to pay attention to. Talk to your doctor about and take steps to reduce your chances of a broken bone or head injury.
“The things that really help people to live longer and stay independent aren’t always major surgeries and a bunch of medication,” Dr. Mrugala says. “It’s the little things, such as preventing a fall and preventing a broken hip, because you made sure the door mat fit correctly. Those things aren’t medical, but they can prevent medical problems.”
- Request an appointment with one of our regional primary care physicians
- Request an appointment at one of our outpatient physical therapy locations (a physician’s referral is required)