Fall Prevention is an important issue in our society today. Falls can lead to serious and fatal injuries. There are many measures that may help to reduce the risk of falls, and studies have shown tai chi is one of the most effective. Tai Chi and Fall Prevention are linked. A number of research studies show a significant reduction in recurrent falls when someone studies Tai Chi. The Centers of Disease Control recommends Tai Chi (as well as physical therapy) as a safe intervention for fall prevention, as well as the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), a New Zealand National Government Body, and also health departments in Australia.
Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of of both fatal and non-fatal injuries. One in three people over the age of 65 will fall within a given year. One in two over the age of 85 will fall. But, less than half of them talk to their healthcare providers about their falling. In 2013, 2.5 million non-fatal falls among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 734,000 of those were hospitalized. In 2013, the direct medical cost of falls was $34 Billion. Tai Chi focuses on the principles of movement, posture, body awareness, weight transfer, breathing, and situational mindfulness to assist in preventing a fall.
So what is a fall, really? A fall is a loss of balance that leads to a collision with the ground, another obstacle, or another person. A fall can occur from a standing, seated, or lying down position. The majority of falls could have been prevented. The fear of falling increases the chance of falling by 60%! It has been shown that approximately 70% of falls occur in places where the person is familiar with the surroundings. We know that concussions and injuries are cumulative over the course of our lifetime. Every time we fall, we are adding to the damage of our bodies. Many falls are non-recoverable, in that, we may not fully recover from the injuries sustained in the fall. The truth is, everyone can fall: all ages, all body types, all physical capabilities, anyone.
- lack of exercise and lacking proper body mechanics
- vision – change in visibility, improper eyewear
- Unsafe environment – lighting, uneven floors or pavement, rugs, steps, rain, wet, ice, bathtubs, obstacles, extension cords, pets,
- illness or disease
- medication reactions
- refusing to modify lifestyles
- not aware of surroundings
- improper footwear or clothing
- climbing stairs, step stool or ladder
- getting out of bed
- lightheaded or lack of oxygen
- getting off the toilet
- physical limitations
- improper use of walking-assistance devices
- Inner ear issues
- Not paying attention
- We have a lifetime of bad habits. We need to be honest about our habits and realize it will take awhile to change them.
- We have a lifetime of accumulated body damage that may or may not have healed properly.
- Pay attention all the time.
- Concentrate on walking heel-to-toe, and not flat-footed or shuffling the feet.
- When given a walking aid (crutch, walker, cane, etc.) ask for instruction on how to use it properly. Then follow the instructions.
- Generate momentum by moving your core, not by moving your head.
- We need to be thinking of not only preventing our own falls, but helping to prevent the falls of others.
- Overcome your fear of falling.
What outcomes are linked to falls?
- 20%-30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, and head traumas.
- These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently, and increase the risk of early death.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI).
- The effects of concussive event are cumulative on the brain and body.
- Most fractures among older adults are caused by falls. The most common are fractures of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, wrist and hand.
- Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, which leads to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, and in turn, increases their actual risk of falling.
- People age 75 and older who fall are 4-5 times more likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.
- Rates of fall-related fractures among older women are more the twice those for men.
- Over 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. Each year, there are over 258,000 hip fractures.
- The death rates from falls have risen sharply over the past 20 years.
- In 2013, about 25,500 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries.
What can I do to help prevent falls?
Take an inventory of your home, your workspace, and other places you spend significant time. Make corrections of possible fall hazards, for you and for others. Reduce trip hazards, add grab bars in the bathroom, add railings to both sides of stairways, and improve the lighting. Keep a journal that chronicles the times you fall or almost fall. Write down the circumstances. After a month or so, look back and see what may be causing you to fall. Exercise regularly. It is important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance, and that they get more challenging over time. Ask your primary care provider or pharmacist to review your medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, to identify medications that may cause side effects or interactions such as dizziness or drowsiness. Have you eyes checked and update your eyewear.
There are no miracles in fall prevention. We need to act pro-actively. Practice good posture, proper breathing, proper walking techniques, limited reaching, and good balance. For more information on falls and fall prevention check the CDC WEBSITE ON FALLS
September 22nd is the first day of the season fall. It is also National Fall Prevention Day. So take some time to make yourself safe. The Tai Chi For Health Institute has a Tai Chi for Fall Prevention Program. Take a look at the information, including the studies, and start to make some changes. We can prevent falls for ourselves and others. Let us join together in not breaking our cups.