Nancy Reagan’s Fall Brings New Attention to Home Safety

The former first lady suffered broken ribs in a fall at home

Former first lady Nancy Reagan, 90, suffered broken ribs in a recent fall in her Bel Air, Calif., home, casting new attention on the risk of falls for those aging in place, no matter how much support they have.

Reagan's injury was announced on May 23 by the executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., where the former first lady had been expected to attend a speech by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The fall took place about six weeks ago, Reagan spokeswoman Joanne Drake told The Los Angeles Times. "She has been recovering slowly and has been adding a few appointments back onto her schedule, but was advised by her doctor not to try and attend large events too far from home just yet," Drake said.

One in three Americans age 65 or older falls each year, and more than 1.6 million annually need to go to the emergency room after a fall, according to the National Institutes of Health. For older Americans, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths, fractures, trauma-related hospital admissions and loss of independence. Fall-related fractures most often occur in the hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand or ankle. Reagan has had to be treated for fall-related injuries before. Two incidents in 2008 resulted in hospital stays, one for a broken pelvis.

Your risk of falling can increase as you age, because of declines in vision, hearing, muscle tone or reflexes. Also, diabetes, heart disease or problems with your thyroid, nerves or blood vessels can affect your balance, and some medications can cause dizziness. For people with osteoporosis, which makes bones weaker and more likely to break, falls are an even greater threat, as even a minor stumble could lead to broken bones.

To avoid falls, the NIH advises that you stay physically active through regular exercise; have your vision and hearing tested regularly; know the side effects of all medications you take; get enough sleep; and limit your alcohol intake. Learn more from Next Avenue about the steps you can take to avoid falls.

If you or a loved one are aging in place, you may want to consider home modifications, like adding handrails on both sides of all stairways, and grab bars near toilets and inside and outside tubs and showers; keeping walking areas free of clutter and wires, and making sure carpets are firmly fixed to the floor; and keeping night lights on in the bedroom, hallways and bathrooms. Learn more from Next Avenue about how to modify a home for safety and comfort.

Gary Drevitch
By Gary Drevitch
Gary Drevitch was senior Web editor for Next Avenue's Caregiving and Health & Well-Being channels.

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