Channeling Humpty Dumpty: Do We All Need to Fall Down?

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Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the king’s horses

and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty 

together again.

Humpty Dumpty is a well-known children’s rhyme. When we recite this rhyme as children, it can be humorous to learn that Humpty Dumpty couldn’t recover from his fall.

But in real life, falls aren’t a funny part of life. Falls are major risk factors for many seniors and can, unfortunately, negatively transform their lives.

Even though falls are a major concern, preventive steps can be taken to reduce their occurrence.

According to the National Council on Aging, one-fourth of Americans aged 65-plus fall each year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall.

Even though these figures are staggering, falls are not a normal part of aging. There are many ways to prevent falls while taking specific actions and identifying risks factors.

It is helpful to be knowledgeable about risk factors and take decisive steps to reduce their occurrence. As part of a thorough education, it is important to review the many myths associated with falls.

Falls usually occur due to your living environment or because of health conditions. Don’t think that falls can’t happen at home or in familiar places. If there are risks in your home, including poor lighting and clutter, then fall risks are increased.

Many people assume that limiting activities will prevent falls. Actually, becoming a couch potato will increase your risk of falls because, as the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Many people strongly believe that muscle flexibility and strength are things only the young have.

Many exercise physiologists believe that anyone can exercise, which can then help restore various amounts of strength and endurance. Of course, it is important to speak to your physician for approval and then have a personalized fitness program designed for you to meet your physical ability.

When looking at your environment and overall health, it is helpful to review the following fall-related risk factors.

  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Lack of regular vision and hearing exams.
  • Certain medications can contribute to falls, especially sedatives, anti-psychotics and pain medications.
  • Parkinson’s, dementia and vision-related illnesses, including macular degeneration, are a few health conditions that are associated with greater fall risks.
  • Environmental hazards, including loose carpets, poor lighting and steps, contribute to one-third of falls.

Knowledge of these risks is important. Now you need to know what steps you can take to prevent falls. Some important suggestions include:

  • Wipe up spills.
  • During inclement weather, make sure walkways are cleared of snow.  
  • Use a grasping tool to pick up objects.
  • Have adequate lighting.
  • Wear non-slip socks.
  • Remove clutter from floors, including clothing and cords.
  • Install hand rails on steps and safety bars in showers.
  • Install no-slip tape on the floor of tubs and showers.

Despite taking precautions, falls may occur. Knowing how to respond is critical to help reduce the severity of any potential problems. There are steps that seniors can take if a fall occurs, such as:

  • Use a call alert monitor in order to receive immediate help.
  • Avoid immediately getting up when a fall occurs. Rest first to ensure that your blood pressure adjusts.
  • Call 911 if you fall and need help.
  • Carry a mobile phone with pre-programmed numbers.

Family members, neighbors and friends also have steps that they can take.

  • Check on loved ones often.
  • Ensure that your senior loved one has sufficient food and daily staples stored in their home.
  • Consider using delivery services if you are not able to personally drop off food and prescriptions.

Falls don’t need to be an inevitable part of the senior years. Keep yourself and your senior loved one healthy and safe so that they don’t fear falls and can continue to live a quality life.

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D, is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.