The older we get, the more likely we are to fall. There is a bona fide public health problem in that issue.
But it is not these things:
· 25% of people over age 65 fall at least once a year
· 40% of hospital admissions for people over 65 are linked to injuries from a fall
· 8% of people age 70+ who show up in emergency rooms after falling will die from their injuries
· If you exclude traffic accidents, falls are responsible for 80% of disabilities caused by an unintentional injury among patients age 50 or older
Those are all horrible stats. The public health issue is that most falls are avoidable, and we’re not doing enough to help people avoid them.
The injuries and fatalities visited on the elderly don’t have to happen to people just because they have celebrated more birthdays. Better balance and better vision are two things that could radically improve those awful statistics.
Falling is a risk of walking upright for all of us. There’s no age limit on tripping over a loose manhole cover. Anyone can slide when they step on an unexpected patch of ice. I once owned a pair of shoes that turned into ice skates every time I got to a wheelchair ramp at the end of a sidewalk. A toy on the stairs can undo anyone.
But while these mishaps can lead to severe injuries to people of any age, younger people are more likely to recover their balance in time to avoid splatting. A reasonable amount of muscle tone and good stability are all it takes. A healthy 80-year old can stumble, regain footing and go on without falling just like a teenager can.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t retain the strength or agility we enjoyed at age 16 when we’re 30 or 40 and certainly not when we’re 50+.
In addition to recovering our balance under duress, we could often avoid falling if we see the risk in time. That’s why cataracts are strongly implicated in falling and being injured. Surgery to improve eyesight prevents accidents. In one British study, 97 patients who were scheduled for surgery on their cataracts were followed for three months before and three months after the operation to see if it made a difference.
Among the patients in the survey, 31 had fallen before surgery. In the months after surgery, only six of the fallers had another fall. And one of those was related to dizziness caused by medication. Among the patients who were not fallers before surgery, they were just as stable afterward. The study clearly showed that the risk factor for falling was not the patients’ ages—nobody got younger—it was their vision.
In the past, it was a common belief that if you had cataracts, you should wait for them to “ripen” before undergoing surgery. Some people still believe that, but it is no longer what doctors recommend.
The new thinking is about function. When your performance is affected, it’s time to take care of the problem. If you find your field of vision is fuzzy, if you don't see everyday things as sharply as you should even with glasses, then it’s time.
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