Among older Americans, falls are the number one cause of injuries and death from injury.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. September 22, 2018
The health risks associated with heart disease, stroke, and cancer are well-known. Less well-known, however, is the serious health risk that particularly affects older adults – the risk of injury due to falling.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Every second of the day and adult aged 65 and older falls in the United States. Every 12 seconds, one of these seniors is admitted to the emergency department for a fall; and every day 74 of those will die from a fall. Among older Americans, falls are the number one cause of injuries and death from injury.1
Anyone can fall. However, seniors are more prone to falling and tend to sustain significantly more serious injuries, such as hip fractures (more than 97% of which are caused by falling).2 This can lead to prolong hospitalization, reduced mobility, loss of independence and fear of falling again. The constant dread of another fall can become paralyzing, leading to reduced physical activity and ironically increasing the chance of future falls.
“When discussing fall prevention, everything from slippery floors, loose throw rugs, poor lighting, medication side effects, wet spots and pets have been cited as contributing to the growing tendency to fall as we age. Foot pain and foot problems, when mentioned, tend to be near the bottom of the list,” said podiatric foot and ankle specialist Diane Branks, DPM, Vice President of the California Podiatric Medical Association.
“Since our feet are the foundation for our balance and mobility, it only makes sense that healthy feet would play a key role in helping to prevent falls,” said Dr. Branks.
In a randomized clinical trial of foot care as a way to prevent falls, Australian researchers found that the volunteers that received foot care experienced 36 percent fewer falls than those in the control group that did not.3
Scientists have also linked several personal risk factors to falling, including muscle weakness in the lower extremities, problems with balance and gait; and foot problems that cause pain, can also increase the risk of falling.4
The foot and ankle is a highly complex structure, containing 26 bones (one-quarter of all the bones in the human body), 33 joints and more than 100 ligaments and tendons. These are all linked and served by a vast network of nerves, muscles, soft tissue and skin. All these components work in unison to provide the support, strength, flexibility and resiliency needed for things most people take for granted, such as balance and walking. Because of the area’s intricacy, podiatric physicians who are rigorously educated in the medical treatment and care of the human foot and ankle play a vital role in keeping seniors on their feet and helping to prevent falls.
Dr. Branks, who is podiatric physician and surgeon on staff with Kaiser Permanente in Fontana, CA, said, “Podiatric physicians can access and treat foot pain; analyze and identify underlying biomechanical and gait abnormalities, prescribe corrective measures including custom orthotic devices and perform necessary surgeries”
Dr. Branks adds that podiatric physicians provide expert medical advice on foot health and care, can recommend exercise programs to increase foot and ankle strength and flexibility, and provide knowledgeable counsel on proper footwear.
“For seniors, good food health can be the difference between enjoyment or infirmity, active involvement or debilitating decline. Keeping our aging population active longer and more capable of caring for themselves is critical. Quality foot and ankle care provided by podiatric physicians is an important part of the equation,” said Dr. Branks.
The California Podiatric Medical Association offers some simple steps to help prevent falls:
- “Have a yearly foot health examination by a podiatric physician. Feet tend to change with aging or changes in one’s health. Be sure to tell him/her if you have fallen within the past year, or if you have a fear of falling. Discuss with the doctor medications that you are currently talking.
- “Wear appropriate footwear. Wearing the right kind of shoes can help to reduce the risk of falling. Avoid high heels, backless shoes and shoes with slick soles, all of which come with an increased risk of falling. Select shoes that have a lot of contact with the ground, nonskid soles with a good grip, are well cushioned and have low heels.
- “Have your feet professionally measured each time you buy shoes, because the size and shape of your feet can change with aging or changes to your health. Have both feet measured and buy for the larger foot. Because feet swell throughout the day, shop for shoes in the afternoon. Bring the socks/stockings that will typically be work with the shoes. Try of both shoes and walk around the store. If the shoes are not comfortable don’t buy them. Shoes shouldn’t need to be broken in.
- “Wear your shoes indoors. Harvard researchers have found that people who wore shoes indoors were less likely to suffer a serious injury from a fall than those who wore slippers or socks or went barefoot.5
- “Health issues like diabetes or foot health problems may require special shoes. Speak to your podiatric physician regarding recommendations, prescriptions and directions.
- “Participate in evidence-based programs, like Tai Chi, that can improve your balance and strengthen your legs. Contact your local YMCA or Council on Aging for information about programs available in your community.
- “Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts more pressure and stress on your feet.
- “Stay physically active. Develop an exercise routine that is right for you. Regular exercise improves muscles and makes you stronger. It also helps keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Mild weight-bearing activities, such as walking a low impact exercise that almost anyone can do is a great choice and may also slow bone loss from osteoporosis.
- “Eat a balance healthy diet. Be sure your diet includes get enough calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones
Reduce falling risks around the home by:
- “Remove tripping hazards. Make sure toys, books, clothes, shoes, etc. remove are not left on the floor, especially at night. Remove throw-rugs or firmly tape them down. Outside of your home, repair broken cement surfaces, and put away the garden hose and tools.
- “Increase lighting inside and out – motion sensor lights are a great option.
- “Make stairs safer by ensuring carpeting is even and firmly attached on each step and that the handrails are securely in place
- “Install grab bars in key areas of the most hazardous areas in the home for falls, especially in the bathrooms. Add nonskid mats to showers and tub bottoms.
- “Pets can also pose a fall risk. Never step over your pet. They can suddenly move causing you to trip and fall. Cats and small dogs can frequently get under feet. Try tying a bell to their collars to let you know where they are. Large dogs can playfully jump up on you, or suddenly pull on the leash causing a fall. Check with your local pet store or SPCA about dog training classes.
To find a local licensed podiatric physician visit http://www.calpma.org.
CPMA: Doctors dedicated to keeping Californians on their Feet – Healthy, Active and Productive!
Founded in 1912, the California Podiatric Medical Association (CPMA) is the leading and recognized professional organization for California’s doctors of podiatric medicine (DPMs). DPMs are podiatric physicians and surgeons, also known as podiatrists, qualified by their long and rigorous education, training and experience to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the foot, ankle and structures of the leg.
1 CDC: “Don’t Fall Behind on Fall Prevention”
2 CDC: “Important Facts about Falls” http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html
3 Harvard Health Letter: “Taking Care of Your Feet May Prevent Falls and Injuries”
4 National Institute On Aging “Prevent Falls and Fractures”
5 Science Daily “Going Barefoot in Home May Contribute to Elderly Falls”
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