Be Well, Marsha 12/29/15

We all fall down

By Marsha Bonhart

I am getting clumsier by the year.

I was decorating the Christmas tree last weekend and hit my head several times on the chandelier that hangs near it. I mean really big smacks. One sent me to the floor. I think to create stronger footing, I have created a more pronounced gait and I am super careful when I descend stairs, holding the rail tightly (I used to take quick steps—two at a time). My point? Lately, as I move about, my awkwardness has become a way of life but can stretch to the category of life-threatening.

We used to think of falling as pure clumsiness, a part of aging. Now, the issue has taken space in the most recent AARP news bulletin. Apparently, tripping and hitting the floor is now a public health problem; one that has taken on the label of near epidemic levels. The article stresses that between the years 2000 and 2013, the number of adults who died from falls each year more than doubled. We are not even counting the millions of people who survived their tumbles.

A podiatrist with the health care giant Kaiser Permanente says, “this is the next tsunami of health care problems coming our way.” Dr. David Griffin expressed that opinion to a group at the Falls Prevention Summit earlier this year. The White House Conference on Aging sponsored the conference, but the federal government has not given much additional support. Researchers and grassroots efforts have worked to develop programs to teach people how to reduce the risk of injury or death.

The fact that the number of deaths from falling in 2000 was 10,273 and just three years later climbed to 25,464 can be looked at as the aging of baby boomers and anyone else who, because of medical technology and health education, is living longer. But statistically, for adults 45 and older, falls are the leading reason for visits to hospital emergency departments, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The same medical disorders that raise the fall risk can affect the younger set of older folks, those in the middle age category. Inner ear issues, diabetes and arthritis can give you reason to trip and find yourself on the floor, ground or collapsed on steps. But the folks in the younger aging group tend to have more activity-related accidents, falling from ladders or tripping while jogging.

That’s what happened to 58-year-old Mark DeLuca. He and I had similar experiences. Camping with his wife, DeLuca tripped over his dog’s leash, landing flat on his back, seriously injuring his spinal cord. Now, he can’t shower or walk without help. Even though I had a similar experience, I was luckier than he. Jogging with my large Labrador mix, I flipped over her back when she suddenly became more interested in a rabbit’s activities and crossed in front of me, mid-stride, splattering my body face down on asphalt. Stunned and bruised, I limped for a few days, but other than that I recovered. The result of that incident could have been much worse.

One in three adults over the age of 65 falls every year—sometimes the injuries are as serious as a broken hip or head trauma, according to AARP. Let’s not forget Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who had a concussion after a major fall a few years ago. She is an example of the 2.5 million older folks who end up being treated for fall-related injuries in hospital emergency departments. The Senate Special Committee on Aging reports those statistics need to serve as a wake up call and that more attention needs to be directed towards the prevention of falls. Maine Senator Susan Collins is the chair of that council who, after a nasty fall that broke her ankle, developed a new perspective on the consequences of how even the most minor trip can have a nasty aftermath.

The dollars to create benchmark preventable fall programs are limited and hard to get. To help, Congress designated 7 million dollars to government funded grants—but the crisis is a multi-billion dollar problem.

It’s smart to take matters in your own hands as best you can. Identify potential hazards. Black ice on sidewalks and driveways are major culprits—keep those areas well salted. Install a grab bar for your bathtub to help with balance.  Some of the biggest offenders are loose carpet, rugs and hardwood floors. Rise slowly from sleeping because some medications can make you dizzy if you get up too quickly. Those so-called destination shoes with the heels that you know are too high and too narrow can add to the chances for a fall. Think about taking classes in balance and flexibility. It’s what’s becoming vogue for the mature age set.

Check with your local senior citizen centers.

Be well,


Marsha Bonhart is an assistant vice president of public relations and programs at Wilberforce University, the nation’s first private, historically black college. Reach her at

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