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Healthy Outlook

Falls Can Cause Serious Injury, So Take Care to Avoid Them

By Dr. Brenda Reilly

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Whether we slip, trip or plunge headlong, falling down can injure more than our pride. Even a garden-variety tumble can cause sprains, broken bones or head injury.

At the hospital where I work, we have noticed many older people arriving in the emergency department lately because of falls in or around the home. The best advice I can offer is to take the potential danger of such accidents seriously, especially if you feel less sure of foot these days.

Most falls are preventable, and devoting energy to making your home and habits safer is a healthy idea. Also, if you do fall, a clear-eyed assessment of your injuries can spare you pain and complications – if it hurts more or for longer than it should, please see your doctor.

I have treated patients who hobbled around for days with broken hips before seeking treatment. When in doubt, it never hurts to seek medical advice. The sooner you go, the sooner you heal, and the less likely you will experience long-term health problems because of your injury.

We rightfully associate the dangers of falling with growing older. Mobility, reflexes and balance often change, while our bodies grow less resilient to everyday bumps and bruises.

But a bad fall can injure anyone, so it makes sense for all of us to think about how to avoid them.

To avoid falls we must consider the uncomfortable possibility of experiencing one. That means making a project out of evaluating the places where we spend most of your time, or a parent's house, or an older neighbor's yard, or anywhere else frequented by someone we know who is especially vulnerable.

Many of us have cluttered homes. Scaling back the sheer amount of stuff crammed into our living areas can help reduce tripping hazards. Also keep eyes open during your daily routines. Many of my patients fell in the dark, while stumbling to the bathroom or kitchen.

Rugs, especially bathroom throw rugs, slippery stairs, shoes without decent treads, the legs of beds and even underfoot family pets have all led to recent emergency department visits. Uneven pavement or yard pavers are other common culprits.

There are plenty of do-it-yourself solutions to home safety concerns, such as tape or non-slip liners for rugs, grab bars for tubs or showers, or adjusting a sticky door or drawer so it doesn't knock you off balance when you use it.

Of course, not all safety improvements require sawdust or great expense. It could be as simple as buying a pair of flat shoes or rubber-soled slippers for the house, if you spend a lot of time padding around in socks on slippery floors.

If you are not sure how to go about fall-proofing your home, there are free home safety assessments and others services available for seniors through nonprofits in our county, such as Meals on Wheels and Senior Outreach Services. Reach them at 925-937-8311 or

Even careful people are liable to fall at some point. If it happens, be honest with yourself about the extent of your pain and any other physical symptoms, such as swelling, bruising or dizziness, and be sure to tell someone what happened.

After all, a little bother in the moment can spare you a lot of pain down the road.

Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at For more health information, go to
About the Author

Dr. Reilly works in the emergency department at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center.