The data is out… and the numbers are frightening. Seniors are taking deadly falls like never before.
A just-released CDC report has revealed that for those 65 and over, deaths caused by falling have risen by close to a third in a little over a decade.
Of course, the feds are once again blaming the usual suspects: the aging of the U.S. population, slipping on ice, and stairway accidents.
While those may be logical causes, they all existed back in 2007 when far fewer fall-related deaths were reported!
So, what’s going on?
Well, if you look at the actual CDC report, way down at the end you find a clue — a footnote about the increased occurrence of something called “polypharmacy,” which simply means taking multiple meds.
And that is something that’s been rising right along with the death rate.
So, while there are some excellent steps you can take to have better balance, stay on your feet, and stay out of the hospital, the starting point of preventing a life-altering tumble may be opening up your medicine cabinet.
Your life in the balance
It can happen in a split second. One minute you’re on your feet… and the next you’re not!
While any fall can have disastrous results, if you happen to lose your balance on a staircase or stumble and hit your head, you may never recover.
And sadly, the worst-case scenario did occur for nearly 30,000 Americans who died due to a fall back in 2016, the most recent year for these figures.
Of course, that’s still only a fraction of those who tripped and broke a bone, especially a hip, and never quite recovered – with many even losing their independence and having to go into a nursing home.
And as if this new CDC report isn’t bad enough, last year I told you about another of the agency’s findings: Serious brain injuries in those 75 and older due to falls have practically doubled during the last decade.
Certainly, those staggering statistics don’t even begin to reflect the pain that so many suffer after a simple slip changed their lives forever. So, doing whatever it takes to stay on your feet is one of the most important acts of “preventive medicine” you can take!
As I mentioned, the CDC touched on polypharmacy, but that risk deserves a whole report of its own, not just a small notation. And while other studies have focused on the ridiculous number of drugs seniors are prescribed, it seems as if two and two are seldom put together.
For example, researchers from Oregon State University estimated last year that once you hit 65, chances are good that you’ll end up on a minimum of five Rx drugs. And by the time you’re blowing out 70 candles on your birthday cake, your risk of taking that many meds doubles!
But for plenty of seniors, that would be child’s play. Doctors say that it’s not unusual to find a patient on 20 or more drugs for a variety of different conditions. And while opioids have taken the spotlight, many seemingly benign pills can be just as deadly.
As numerous studies have found, certain drugs – especially in combination – are prescriptions for a fall, such as:
- antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft, as well as “benzo” drugs for anxiety, like Xanax and Klonopin,
- sleeping pills such as Ambien and Intermezzo,
- OTC meds like Tylenol PM and Benadryl, and
- blood pressure meds that can cause you to become lightheaded, especially when you stand up quickly.
The bottom line is that any drug that can cause dizziness, weakness, or an unsteady gait can also be the tipping point to changing your life – and not for the better!
Along with taking a careful assessment of what drugs you’re on — even gathering them all up the next time you see your doctor to find out which ones you can ditch – there are some other measures you can take that will make falling a lot less likely.
For example, why not try some yoga or tai chi? Both will significantly improve your balance and can be done at any level of exertion. Also, be careful when wearing new glasses (prescription or otherwise), which can make it very easy to take a misstep – especially when going down stairs or stepping off a curb.
And always hold the handrail when going up or down stairs, even if you don’t think you need to!
Of course, in addition to these precautions, having strong bones is your best defense should you take a spill. And for that, good old vitamin D – not an Rx drug for osteoporosis – is one of the best protective measures you can take.
“Fatal falls are on the rise for America’s senior citizens” Karen Kaplan, May 11, 2018, The Tribune, greeleytribune.com