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What We Can Learn from President George H.W. Bush's Recent Fall

August 25, 2015

Former President George H.W. Bush went skydiving on his 90th birthday. It’s an impressive accomplishment for anyone, but especially for a nonagenarian who relies on a wheelchair.

But despite this age-defying feat, President Bush was still susceptible to an injury that is all too common with aging. In July, he fractured a bone in his neck after a fall at his summer home in Maine. He was rushed to the hospital for treatment. Luckily, the injury did not impinge his spinal cord or affect his brain. Though he’ll have to undergo physical therapy and wear a neck brace, the fall could have been a lot worse. President Bush is expected to recover within the next four months.

Falls like President Bush’s are common for senior citizens. Every 13 seconds, an elderly person is treated in an emergency room for a fall-related injury. In Florida, which has a significant population of baby boomers and retirees, fall-related traumas are the leading cause of emergency room visits for seniors. Here at Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC), more than two-thirds of traumatic injuries in patients 60 and over that we treated last year were because of a fall. Pelvic and leg fractures and brain trauma are the injuries we see most frequently. While most patients are able to recover from fall-related injuries, others can suffer from more severe injuries, such as spinal damage or brain bleeds.

Falls, slips and resulting fractures in older people often are caused by unsafe environments, health complications or conditions like osteoporosis. Simple preventative measures can easily save you or your loved one from sustaining these kinds of injuries.

Tips for Preventing Falls in the Elderly

If you or your loved one has experienced changes in your mobility, balance or strength, it may be time to talk to a doctor. Share any history of recent falls and ask your physician for an assessment of your risk. Explain any medications you are currently taking to ensure that their side effects do not increase your risk of falling. If your medications cause dizziness, confusion, loss of balance or other disorienting symptoms, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Vision or hearing impairments can make it more difficult to notice obstacles that could cause a fall. The inner ear and vision are closely related to the sensation of balance. Check your vision and hearing regularly and update your eyewear prescription as needed. Taking these steps could minimize your risk of falling and ending up in the emergency room or worse.

If you do experience balance and strength issues unrelated to medication or specific physical ailments, consider starting an exercise regimen. Seeking the help of a healthcare provider or rehabilitation specialist can give you access to specialized exercises and routines to strengthen particular weak spots. Do not keep this issue to yourself, as getting help could prevent a potentially serious injury.

Steps You Can Take at Home

Once you understand your risk for a fall, there are steps you can take to make your living environment safer. While your home already should be safe, you need to be aware of potential tripping hazards. Increase lighting in dim or dark rooms and install grab bars or railings in main rooms to prevent an in-home incident. These things are particularly important in the bathroom or kitchen areas, where wet and slippery surfaces can increase the likelihood of a fall. Remove thick or cushy rugs from the bedside to prevent early morning or middle-of-the-night falls from lack of floor support. Making sure that regularly-used items are within immediate reach and do not require the use of a step stool also will prevent falls.

Finally, share your concerns with family members. This will empower them to take steps to keep you safe. Family members and caregivers can ensure that the house is free of hazards on a regular basis and can stay in regular contact with you to ensure your safety. If a senior lives alone, someone should check in with him or her daily to make sure the person is safe, or invest in an emergency contact system such as Life Alert. In some instances, fall victims are unable to reach the phone to contact help. In the event of a fall, an injured senior can contact emergency service from a bracelet or necklace if the phone is out of reach.

Every year, 1 in 3 seniors will sustain injuries because of a fall. Many will face more serious consequences than those experienced by President George H.W. Bush. If you think you or someone you know is at risk of falling, make every effort to remove tripping hazards from the home. Taking these precautions will keep you or your loved safe and could prevent a potentially life-threatening injury.