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Staying safe from falls


Falls can happen to anyone at any time, from children to athletes to the elderly. In the last six months, over 360 people have gone to Bothwell Regional Health Center’s Emergency Department for a fall, an average of two people per day. The top three reasons for these falls included slips or trips in bathrooms, working in yards and getting in or out of bed.

The age groups with the largest number of falls were people in their 60s and 70s, and Sedalian Kevin Harris was one of them. On Halloween, Harris, 61, slipped on wet leaves and uneven ground in a yard, fell and broke his right humerus, or his upper arm bone. 

“I was retrieving my dog from the neighbor’s yard when my feet slipped and turned awkwardly,” Harris said. “I tried to protect my left arm because I have bursitis and went down hard on my right side and heard a loud pop. It felt like I’d been shot in the shoulder.” 

In excruciating pain, Harris drove himself to the Emergency Department, where he received x-rays, pain medication, a sling and an appointment to see orthopedic surgeon Dr. Douglas Kiburz with Bothwell Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. 

Unfortunately for Harris, the location of his fracture was at the ball joint at the top of the bone and the arm could not be set in a cast. Kiburz is monitoring the injury and gave Harris strict instructions to be careful and not do anything but rest in a recliner for several weeks. 

“Kevin was very lucky in that he did not require surgery, at least not yet,” Kiburz said. “But even then, his shoulder will never get back to his preinjury status and the process will take him six months to a year to get as much function back as he will eventually get.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries and over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture. Making matters worse, falling once doubles a person’s chances of falling again. 

Falls among adults 65 and older caused over 34,000 deaths in 2019, making it the leading cause of injury death for that group. Nationally, falls account for 51% of health care encounters and 61% of orthopedics procedures.

Prior to his injury, Harris worked and considered himself an extreme athlete. While his accident was situational and not directly due to his age or any specific health condition, he said it’s been a challenge. 

“It’s been very difficult to go from someone who can to someone who can’t,” he said. 

Kiburz said that while some falls are inevitable, there are steps people, especially women, can take early in their lives to help prevent injuries later in life. 

“Women can begin thinking about prevention by getting an early start on their bone strength,” he said. “That means starting in their 20s by monitoring their calcium and vitamin D intake and being aware of a family history of osteoporosis. Women who are concerned about the status of their bone strength should consider a bone density dexa scan that can provide an exact measurement of their bone strength.”

It’s a fact that falls can happen at any age; however, the elderly are most vulnerable due to bone loss and a combination of factors, including poor balance, certain medications, vision problems, arthritis, home hazards, poor lighting or carrying items up or down stairs.

Kiburz recommends people review medications with their physicians, work on balance and cardiovascular strengthening by taking Tai chi or water therapy classes, have their eyes checked, check their home for loose rugs and cords, and use stair railings and lights regularly.

“My best advice is to tell people to slow down and watch where they are stepping,” he said. “Don’t text and walk and don’t be too stubborn to use assistive devices like a cane or walker for stability or to ask for help with risky chores and activities. Many falls occur at night. Turn on the night light, and if you’ve ever considered getting a medical alert service like Life Alert, do it now.”