Column: Preventing falls, loss of independence among older adults


Commentry P. Jamieson Kay, M.D.



“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” So goes the iconic TV spot, featuring older adults calling for help after a fall. Though fictitious, the TV scene reflects a common predicament that likely has impacted someone close to you.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults age 65 or older falls each year, affecting just about all families. In fact, falls are the leading cause of open wounds and fractures, often robbing older adults of their independence.

I see plenty of patients with fall injuries, especially during winter months when ice and snow raise risks for people of all ages. Most often, they’ve suffered wrist, ankle and hip fractures – the latter presenting considerable problems for older adults.

The devastating part of a hip fracture is recovery, because many patients lose independence, at least temporarily, and need to go into a rehab facility or nursing home. In some cases, they never recover that independence. That’s the real tragedy.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, most fall fractures happen in the home, stemming from daily activities like walking on stairs, going to the bathroom or working in the kitchen. The culprits: slippery or wet surfaces, poor lighting, inadequate footwear and clutter.

Prevention starts with minimizing hazards in the home. Remove clutter and other tripping points, and have light switches or night-lights in convenient spots so you don’t have to fumble in the dark for the light switch. I also recommend non-skid mats and handrails in the bathroom – the most dangerous room in the house because you’re adding water and wet floors to the mix.

Throw rugs are particularly dangerous. They get bunched up and people commonly trip on them.

I also recommend weight-bearing exercise, like walking, on a regular basis, to maintain muscle mass and balance. Also, mind your footwear: Wear non-skid soles and ditch high heels.

And in this weather, if you don’t need to go out, don’t.

Dr. P. Jamieson Kay, an orthopedic surgeon with St.Vincent, may be reached at

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