It wasn’t a fall. I just tripped.
Have you ever said that to yourself? Stumbling even in private can feel deeply embarrassing and shameful. Instinctively, we dust ourselves off and feel relieved no one was there to notice, right?
I want to stress to you that falls are quite common. About a third of Americans over age 64 fall each year—and the risk of a second incidence doubles after the first.
Falls are also surprisingly dangerous. Forty percent result in a significant injury, such as a concussion or broken bone. Your lifetime risk of death from a fall—about 1%—is higher than the risk of dying in a motor-vehicle accident or being hit by a car. It is also a risk that rises with age. And while most people enjoy better health outcomes now after various accidents, the opposite is true of falls. The rate of death associated with falling has increased since 1993.
So why do we fear being in an automobile accident but shrug at the chance of falling?
Maybe it’s because we have vivid ideas of what happens in a car crash, thanks to movies and the accidents we have heard about or seen firsthand. Falls, however, are seldom witnessed except by close family—and we don’t even talk about them because they are embarrassing.
Up to 40% of people who have fallen develop a disabling fear of falling again. This has a cascading effect: Having fallen, you will probably take fewer risks. You may cut down on your walking, be less likely to go out, and enter a downward spiral of social withdrawal and physical deconditioning.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Like plane crashes or car accidents, most falls can be prevented.
You wouldn’t wait to buckle your seat belt until your car was going off the road.
You probably know people who say they’ve given up driving at night.
But does anyone mention holding the handrail every time they go down the stairs?
While the internet is teeming with public-health messages about falls prevention, the advice tends to be preachy and aimed at people who are already fairly disabled. Maybe that isn’t you.
Most Spring users aren’t like that, either. They are active and have only mild to moderate disability. They have thought ahead and realistically, about how to remain independent and engaged with the world. They have also thought about what it means—for them, their friends, and their loved ones—to be proactive about their own health.
Preventing accidents—in this case, a fall—is a collective good. It’s not just about you. Your spouse, your kids, and your neighbors all have a practical stake in your continued well-being.
Here are four simple rules I have thought of, based on workplace safety guidelines. They may seem obvious, but applying them to your everyday life can greatly help in preventing falls.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If you stumble on a certain rug in your home a couple of times, tack down the rug. More importantly, identify situations outside your home where you are making a similar movement, and therefore are at risk.
- Follow the safety rules, even when you think they don’t apply to you. Ships and rigs have strict protocols, for example, requiring the use of handrails on stairs and slippery decks. No exceptions.
- Report the incident. Hospitals exact severe penalties on people who cause or witness a safety violation and don’t report it. The rationale is clear. So why not hold yourself to that standard at home? Tell someone. Fewer than half of those who have fallen tell their doctor about it. Tell your doctor at your next visit how many falls and near-falls you have experienced. And let someone close to you know, too.
- Learn from your experience. While every stumble does not require a complete do-over of your lifestyle, keep an eye on the circumstances and frequency of your trips, slips, and falls.
We developed Spring to be a different kind of rolling walker. We want people to start using it before a fall. We want people to have the confidence to live actively.
In my medical practice, I too often meet patients who come in after a fall sporting a walker or even a wheelchair. Their recoveries can be labored and incomplete. Fear of falling again makes them hesitant to resume their former life.
But for those patients who proactively talk about their near-falls and take preventive measures? Those falls tend never to come to pass.
In good health,
Dr. Patricia Kavanagh