WASHINGTON — Winter, ice and snow bring an increased risk of falling.
Every year, nearly one of every three people who are 65 and older will take a spill, and about 300,000 will actually fracture a hip, which can be an expensive proposition.
Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, says the average cost for a broken hip is $56,000. In 2015, Medicare paid more than 31 billion dollars for falls by the elderly. More than 800,000 people 65 and older are hospitalized each year in the United States because of a broken hip, a head injury or some other problem from falling.
Hospital stays and surgery can spark a downward health spiral. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that every 20 minutes, an elderly person dies from a fall.
Nobody wants to become a recluse in the winter months and the good news is you don’t have to. There are a lot of things that can be done to reduce the risk of falling, from activities to diet.
First, there are three important questions to ask yourself or a loved one:
- Have you fallen in the past year?
- Do you feel unsteady when standing or walking?
- Do you worry about falling?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, check in with your doctor. Get your vision checked to make sure there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight. Are there medications that could cause you to be sleepy or dizzy? If so, could you switch to another medication? Consider taking vitamin D supplements which can help strengthen bones. And take a good look around your home to check for risks. If you’ll be visiting family and friends, be aware of potential problems, including throw rugs, toys, wet sidewalks (especially with fallen leaves), ice or snow.
If you’re walking with someone, ask for an arm to steady yourself. Use a cane if you’re walking alone. Wear shoes and boots that can grip floors and sidewalks. Remove anything from your home that might make it easy to trip and fall. Keep stairs clear. Handrails on both sides of stairs are very helpful. Put grab bars in the bathroom to minimize your risk of a fall in the tub or shower or near the toilet. And use brighter light bulbs.
Exercise is also important. Strength and balance exercises can help reduce your risk of falling. Weight training is good, especially for your legs. Tai Chi is extremely helpful for improving balance. And chair rise exercises help strengthen your thigh and butt muscles to cut the risk of falls.
As you might imagine, diet plays a role too. Squires searched the literature at the National Library of Medicine and found that the Mediterranean diet, which is a delicious way to eat, is linked to a 7 percent lower risk of hip fractures. If you’re not familiar with it, the Mediterranean Diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, healthy fats and oils like olive oil.
Tea may also help protect against hip fractures, according to a study of nearly 200,000 people including 10,000 who had hip fractures. People who drank one to four cups of tea per day had a lower risk of hip fractures compared to those who did not drink tea. Coffee had no effect. Legumes (beans and lentils) seem to help protect against hip fractures. Also, high vegetable consumption helps to reduce risk. On the other hand, high meat consumption and high alcohol consumption appear to increase risk.
The CDC has some great resources to help you, including their STEADI program, which has tips for older people, caregivers and family members for helping to avoid falls.