By Dr. Timothy Lee, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealthcare of Northern California
As we age, we begin to learn – sometimes firsthand – how devastating a fall can be. It isn’t quite as easy as it once was to hop back up and continue on our way.
September is National Falls Prevention Month, a great time for older adults to learn about the dangers falls pose to quality of life and independence and tips to reduce risks factors.
Each year millions of older adults experience falls and fall-related injuries. California ranked 20thth in a state-to-state comparison with 25.4 percent of adults age 65+ reporting a fall in the past 12 months, according to new local data from the 2021 America’s Health Rankings Senior Report.
About one in four people in the United States over age 65 reports falling each year. Among older adults, 1 out of 5 falls causes a serious injury, including 90% of hip fractures and 51% of traumatic brain injuries.
Contributing factors for falls include poor balance, poor vision, certain medications, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, osteoporosis, physical disabilities and general frailty.
Being aware of the risk factors and following these tips can reduce your chances of serious injury, and help you maintain and improve the quality of your health and remain independent.
- Medications: Any time you get a new prescription, ask your pharmacist or doctor about side effects like dizziness or drowsiness that can affect balance.
- Review Your Health Benefits: As we approach the Medicare annual enrollment period in October, older adults should consider whether their current plan includes programs that can help reduce the chances of a fall. Many Medicare Advantage plans, for example, include benefits that Original Medicare does not cover that can help reduce the risk of falls like vision and hearing benefits; gym memberships; and disease management programs.
- Stay Active – Do exercises that can strengthen your legs and improve balance. Many Medicare plans offers benefits to help seniors stay active like UnitedHealthcare’s fitness program RenewActive®, which includes access to balance classes.
- Talk to Your Provider: A health care provider can help assess and reduce your fall risk. Medicare-eligible individuals can access care through an Annual Wellness Visit, which is free to anyone on Medicare. UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members can take advantage of the HouseCalls program, which brings an annual health assessment to the convenience and privacy of home, at no additional cost.
- Footwear – Make sure your shoes fit, have good traction, and are comfortable. See a doctor if you are experiencing foot pain.
- Check Your Home – Most falls happen at home. Remove clutter, fix steps that are uneven and make sure there is adequate lighting. Install grab bars and handrails in the bathroom and on stairways. Use a cane, walker, crutches or other support if needed.
Falls can present a more significant health threat than many may realize, but by understanding risk factors and how to reduce them, older adults can empower themselves to live healthier lives.