The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in the news now for important reasons. Yet the Centers’ (“CDC”) attention to protecting people goes well beyond the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC has established an Injury Center because in the United States injury is the leading cause of death for children and adults between the ages of one and 45. Injury statistics examined by the National Safety Council (“NSC”), a leading nonprofit safety advocate, show that going into this pandemic, the three leading causes of death in the United States were drug overdoses, motor vehicle crashes, and accidental injuries. Both the CDC and NSC pay special attention to falls. According to the CDC, in 2018, the most recent year for which the applicable statistics have been compiled, 37,455 Americans died of unintentional falls. Another way to look at this is that on average, every year, one out of every 10,000 people will die from a fall. Over 8,000,000 million people in America will be injured from a fall in an average year, which boils down to one out of every 40 people being injured from a fall. Notably, the injury numbers are based on emergency room visits, so when unreported or untreated fall injuries are taken into account, likely many more people are being injured from falls. (Sometimes falls are due to those who violate community safety standards, causing needless harm, and we at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman are always available to help injury victims in those circumstances.)
The burden of fall injuries rests disproportionately on the elderly. CDC statistics reflect that every 20 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall, and many more are injured. NSC research shows that as the aging process affects vision, strength, and balance, adults 65 and older are at elevated risk for falls. Nevertheless, the NSC posits that falls are not a natural part of aging and can be prevented. In addition to consulting with a doctor, helpful steps include community falls prevention programs which can be found locally through The National Council on Aging, practicing balancing exercises at home available through the National Institutes for Health, and taking a self-assessment from the CDC to compute an individual’s fall risk. Also, as we spend more and more time at home where many falls occur, the NSC offers common-sense approaches to making our homes safer, including removing clutter, small furniture, pet gear, electrical cords, throw rugs and anything else on the floor that might cause someone to trip; arranging or removing furniture so there is plenty of room for walking; putting essential items where they are easy to reach; adding grab bars inside and outside of bathtubs and showers and next to toilets; putting railings on both sides of stairs and making sure that stairs and hallways have good lighting; making sure outdoor areas are well lit and walkways are smooth and free of puddles and ice. Use a cane or walker if necessary. As the NSC points out on its website, though we are all aging every day, falls do not have to be part of that process, and understanding fall risks is an important step in keeping our loved ones and ourselves safe.
Both in and outside of the house, injuries can be reduced, and the CDC on its website lists ten ways:
- Wear the proper helmet for your activity;
- Wear a life jacket;
- Have your eyes checked;
- Remove tripping hazards around your house;
- Learn to swim;
- Store medicine out of reach of children;
- Take medication only as directed;
- Place children in the proper booster or car seat;
- Wear your seatbelt; and
- Walk on a sidewalk when possible.
As to Item Four above, in addition to getting rid of things you could trip over, the CDC recommends making sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs. CDC research has identified many conditions/risk factors that contribute to falling, and that most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors, with the more risk factors a person has, the greater that person’s risk of falling. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls, including Vitamin D deficiency, foot pain or poor footwear, and scrutiny of prescription medications, such as tranquilizers, sedatives or antidepressants, with even some over-the-counter medicines affecting balance and how steady people are on their feet. As to Item Ten above, CDC statistics show approximately 6,000 pedestrians being killed in traffic crashes each year in the United States, about one death every 88 minutes. Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than car occupants to be killed in a car crash. CDC pedestrian safety tips include increasing visibility at night by carrying a flashlight when walking and wearing reflective clothing, crossing streets at a designated crosswalk or intersection whenever possible, and as we venture outside our houses for fresh air, walking on a sidewalk or path instead of the road, or walking on the shoulder and facing traffic if a sidewalk or path is not available, and being careful of using electronic devices like earbuds (and smartphones) which can cause distractions. Finally, we all know the dangers of drinking and driving, yet walking after consuming alcohol can impair coordination and judgment. As we go on with our daily lives, let’s all do our best to do what we can to be safe.