Seniors and falling: A local doctor weighs in on why it happens and how to prevent it

Posted at 8:05 AM, Nov 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-06 12:44:33-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - It's a story we hear a lot. An older person falls and gets hurt...and never really bounces back.

The truth is falling can have potentially deadly consequences for the senior population.

95-year-old former president Jimmy Carter recently fell for the third time this year, breaking his pelvis. Reports are he's doing okay, but Dr. Janine Frank with Pembroke Medical Associates, a Bayview Physicians Group practice, says his repeat falls aren't out of the ordinary.

“About 65 percent of patients above the age of 65, if they’ve fallen, they have a much higher risk of falling again within the next 12 months," she said, adding that each year around 25-35 percent of people over 65 will experience a fall.

Most of Dr. Frank's patients meet that age threshold. She tells News 3 the first step in preventing falls is to acknowledge that they are a risk.

“Being open with your children, being open with your physician to talk about risks and concern about falling. As physicians, we tend to screen for falling, usually on a yearly basis. Asking questions if you had a fall in the last year," she said.

Dr. Frank says people struggle to keep their balance as they get older and illnesses like arthritis, diabetes and dementia can only add to the problem. Side effects from certain medications can also play a role.

Half of all senior falls result in injuries, according to Dr. Frank, with 10 percent of those classified as 'major injuries'.

Hip fractures are one of the more common injuries and one of the most serious because Dr. Frank says they impact mobility and once an elderly person becomes immobile, overall health tends to deteriorate.

That's why it's important to prevent falls by moving anything in the home that can be a hazard, especially during nighttime trips from the bed to the bathroom, like coffee tables, night stands and area rugs.

And for those who haven't reached senior age, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and help prevent falls later in life.

“I think that being able to be as active as you can is going to be much better as you get older because it’s going to at least help prevent falls and we know that from a lot of studies," said Dr. Frank. "...Exercise is the biggest. Keeping weight at a manageable level, right? So keeping a healthy weight, healthy diet, hydration, as well as keeping active, so muscle strength, core strength.”

These simple measures, she says, can go a long way to staying healthy.