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Falls Risk: Do You Know What To Do if You Fall?

Mary Jo Baldino, RN, Neighborhood Health Senior HealthLink Outreach Coordinator
The Chester County Hospital and Health System

Published: September 17, 2012

We all fall from time to time. But as we age, both the number of falls and the incidence of injury increase. So, it's important to know what to do if you fall. Reacting properly to a fall can make the difference between a serious fall and a less serious one. It often helps to decrease its physical and psychological consequences; enabling you to regain your confidence more quickly and to continue to be as independent as possible.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- One-third of Americans 65+ fall each year; half of them have fallen more than once.
- Falls are the most common cause of injury among seniors.
- Seniors are more likely to get hurt in a fall than someone under age 65.
- Nearly two-thirds of injury-related hospitalizations for seniors are the result of falls.
- Most falls occur at home and could have been avoided.

The first thing to do after a fall is to catch your breath. Check and see if you are injured and whether or not you can get up. Even if you think you are okay, take your time before getting up again.

Practice these five steps for getting up often and be prepared in case you fall. Most of all stay calm.
1. Lie on your side, bend the leg that is on top and lift yourself onto your elbows or hands.
2. Pull yourself toward an armchair or other sturdy object, and then kneel while placing both hands on the chair or object.
3. Place your stronger leg in front, holding on to the chair or object.
4. Stand up.
5. Very carefully, turn and sit down.

If you feel any discomfort or are unable to get up, try to get help.
1. Call out for help if you think you can be heard.
2. If you have an emergency call device or telephone at hand, use it.
3. If you don't, try to slide yourself towards a phone or a place where you will be heard.
4. Make noise with your cane or another object to attract attention.
5. Wait for help in the most comfortable position for you.
6. Try to move your joints to ease circulation and prevent stiffness.

Never underestimate the seriousness of a fall. A fall may be the sign of an illness, or it may be caused by medication. It's always better to mention a fall to your doctor. Determining and treating the underlying cause of a fall is essential to reducing the risk of recurring falls.

It's normal to be more cautious after a fall, but the fear of falling may lead you to limit your activities which ironically increase your risk for falling. It is a vicious cycle; the less active you are, the more your strength, balance and flexibility decline, and the more likely you are to fall.

A key intervention in lowering your risk for falls and fall-related injuries is exercise. It increases strength, balance and flexibility. Stronger people are less likely to fall and better able to avoid injury if they do.

Taking a fall brings your physical limitations to the surface and may threaten your independence. It is a difficult experience to have. Knowing the potential consequences of a fall and discussing with your health professional interventions that are effective in reducing the risk will empower you to return to an enjoyable, healthy life.


This article was published as part of the Daily Local News Medical Column series which appears every Monday. It has been reprinted by permission of the Daily Local News.

Last Updated: 9/18/2012