Ask the Expert Stay healthy, take fall risks seriously

By Tucson Medical Center

Just a misstep, a slight stumble, a little fall. How serious can falls be? According to the CDC, the number of fall-related deaths in the U.S. have increased by 30% since 2007.

Contrary to popular belief, falls are a serious health risk to all ages that can lead to significant health complications.

Sylvia Kwon, a primary care provider at TMCOne, sat down with us during National Safety Month to discuss fall risks, what to do if a fall occurs and what precautions are appropriate.

Are falls really a serious health risk? For seniors only?

Falls can pose a serious health risk at any age, but are particularly precarious for seniors because the immune system is less robust and the body does not heal as quickly. Seniors are also more likely to have co-occurring health challenges such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease that could make fall injuries worse.

Anyone taking blood thinners, such as warfarin or other anticoagulants, can develop prolonged and serious bleeding depending on the severity of the fall and location of the injury.

Can medications affect gait and balance?

Yes, especially if one or more of the following are taken together:

Anti-hypertensives (including diuretics), antidepressants, vasodilator drugs such as Viagra and nitroglycerin, sedatives (including benzodiazepines), narcotics, muscle relaxants, sleep aids and medications to treat Parkinson’s disease.

What about over-the-counter drugs?

Yes. Be cautious when taking antihistamines, sleep aids, cold remedies (especially cough medications), pain killers and anti-nausea drugs.

What if I fall while I’m alone?

If you are not seriously hurt and able to crawl, slide or roll onto your side to attempt to get to a phone. Call 9-1-1 immediately and then call a family member or friend.

If you can’t get to a phone, scream loudly or bang on the walls so a neighbor can hear you and call for help on your behalf.

Having a personal alarm or mobile phone on you at all times will help you to call for help when you need it. Ensuring that a family member or neighbor has a spare key will allow people to get to you quickly.

What should you ask the provider to check after a fall?

If there was a head injury, the provider should check for signs of concussion. In general, the provider should examine the body for wounds, fractures and muscle damage.

Depending on how long a person was down after a fall, the person should be checked for pneumonia, blood clots and kidney damage.

How can falls be prevented?

A good rule of thumb is to clear walkways of clutter and use night lights. Many falls take place in the bathroom—consider installing shower chairs, grab bars and nonslip rugs. Wearing nonslip socks and shoes is also helpful.

If you are experiencing any type of impaired mobility, balance disorder, sensory impairment or weakness, please take the needed precautions, use assistive devices and stand from sitting or sleeping slowly.

For more information about Sylvia Kwon, visit http://bit.ly/2WbPtYC.

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