"One out of three people over 65 fall, and it's the single largest cause of injury that brings people to the ER."
Dr. Frank Dubeck of Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield explains why our bodies react to falls differently as we get older.
"What keeps us upright are three systems: our vestibular system, your equilibrium which tells you you're not moving, you have your eyes that reinforce what your ears are telling you, and when those disconnect you really feel disoriented. And then you have your sense organs in your legs that tell you what position you're in and whether or not you're starting to go left or right. Now when all those are working that's great but as we get older, the eyes aren't as good, the nerves aren't as good."
Dubeck says the life expectancy decreases greatly when falls happen, especially if it leads to a broken hip.
"Someone with a broken hip spends a lot of time in bed risk for pneumonia, bed sores, blood clots, etc. Even if they get fixed they don't return to the level of function that they were before and now their balance is even worse," says Dubeck.
But there are things we can do- and we can help our parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends do to prevent falls.
Dr. Dubeck says, "Stay active, do what you can for your strength; you want to look at your home environment, you want to get rid of clutter."
Inspect the home not just for clutter, but for areas that our not well lit. A higher electric bill costs a lot less than a medical bill from a fall. Another thing Dr. Dubeck suggests is stretching. Every morning when you wake up, especially when you hit fifty years of age, it's important to stretch to stay limber.
"If you fall stiff you're most likely to break something, " says Dubeck, "so just practicing sitting down in a chair, [and] just kind of slumping into the chair rather than cautiously letting yourself down--you're training your body that as you go down to relax your muscles."
While it's not something he believes will ever go away, Dubeck says with more education and awareness we can lessen the problems associated with falling among the older population.