Active Older Adults Prevent Injuries

The statistics are startling and eye-opening.

But dispelling one common myth could be the key to preventing thousands of older San Diego County residents from showing up in local emergency departments and doctors’ offices each year after suffering fall-related injuries.

Every year, an estimated 122,000 San Diego County residents over the age of 65 will fall and more than 12,000 of those older adults will arrive at a hospital for treatment, according to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says nationally one-third of Americans over the age of 65 fall each year. Every 14 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room. Every 29 minutes an older adult dies from an accidental fall.

“There are many factors that can cause falls to become a major issue for many older adults,” said Ellen Schmeding, the director of HHSA’s Aging & Independence Services (AIS). “As people age, physical changes, health conditions and even the medications they take to treat those health conditions can increase the potential for falling.

Tips to avoid fall-related injuries from HHSA

Fall-related injuries can be prevented by:
  • Exercising regularly to improve balance, strength and flexibility.
  • Asking your doctor to conduct a fall risk assessment and treat any medical risk factors.
  • Reviewing prescription and over-the-counter medicines with your doctor or pharmacist to reduce side effects and interactions that can cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Getting your vision checked at least once a year.
  • Enrolling in an evidence-based program like Tai Chi.
  • Wearing appropriate footwear (flat shoes with non-slip, thin soles)
Making your home safer by:
  • Keeping frequently used items within easy reach.
  • Improving lighting.
  • Removing loose rugs, electrical cords, and clutter in walkways.
  • Installing grab bars and non-skid mats in bathrooms.

“There are some fairly simple things, however, that older adults can do to keep active and help prevent the likelihood of suffering a fall.”

One myth many people believe is that the best way to prevent falls is for an older adult to stay at home and limit their activities. In reality, in most cases, the opposite is true.

“Older adults should exercise regularly to improve balance, strength and flexibility,” said Schmeding. “After consulting with their physician, they should find an exercise that they are comfortable doing that focuses on increasing leg and lower body strength and improving balance.”

Working with community partners through the San Diego Fall Prevention Coalition, AIS offers Tai Chi classes, the Feeling Fit Club and a falls-prevention workshop Stepping On.

Tai Chi classes are offered twice a week at the City Heights Wellness Center, Linda Vista Library and Tierrasanta Village. There is no charge for the classes, and AIS is hoping to add three more locations in other parts of the County.

The Feeling Fit Club is an exercise program that focuses on four core components (strength, balance, aerobic endurance and flexibility) adapted to various physical abilities. Older adults can attend the program in person at 22 locations (with an additional eight more on the way) or they can participate at home by watching the program on cable or online at their convenience, or by having a DVD of classes sent to them.

Stepping On is offered through Tri-City Medical Center and focuses on exercise, vision, safety and medications. The program is a series of nine weekly two-hour sessions at the Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside. The classes will begin sometime in October.

The San Diego Fall Prevention Coalition is also holding two events this week to educate older adults and caregivers on how to prevent falls. The first event is in Vista on Wednesday, Sept. 24 from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Gloria McClellan Senior Center Brengle Terrace Park, 1400 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista. The second event is Thursday, Sept. 25 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 2111 Camino Del Rio South, San Diego. Both events will feature free health and balance screenings along with exhibitors, speakers and local resources.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact