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VIEWPOINT: Don’t accept falling as part of aging

By Kelly Berchou, M.D.

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More than 1 in 4 older adults (28 percent) in the U.S. report falling each year, according to an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield review of the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That translates to about 36 million falls each year, of which 36,000 result in death. 

Many who survive and recover from a fall lose the ability to live independently on a short-term or long-term basis, and those who require medical treatment may incur substantial out-of-pocket costs. According to the CDC, falls among older adults result in $50 billion in annual medical spending, including $12 billion out-of-pocket. 

Falls are not a normal part of aging and can be prevented. Daily exercise, avoiding certain medications that can affect your balance, and even making sure eyeglass lens prescriptions are up-to-date can help to prevent falls. I advise discussing these topics with your health-care provider. You should also check your home for obvious hazards, such as: 

• Clutter

• Torn carpets

• Stairs with rickety railings

• Rooms with insufficient lighting

• Unstable chairs or tables 

• Bathrooms lacking grab bars 

• Uneven transitions between bare floors and carpets 

A simple test can help identify individuals at risk for a fall. It’s called the Timed Up and Go test, or TUG test, and anyone can do it at home. The TUG test requires a stopwatch or wristwatch with a second hand, a chair, and a friend to assist you. Wear regular footwear and use a walking aid, if needed. 

How to take the “TUG” test: 

• Mark a line on the floor that is 10 feet away from the chair

• Sit in the chair

• When your assistant with the stopwatch says “go,” stand up from the chair

• Walk 10 feet to the line on the floor at your normal pace

• Turn and walk back to the chair at your normal pace and sit down again

Your assistant should start timing on the word “go” and stop timing after you sit back down. 

If you take 12 or more seconds to complete the TUG test, you may have a higher chance of falling and should seek a health-care provider’s advice on actions you can take to reduce the risk.

Be honest with your health-care provider about issues with balance or concerns about taking a fall. Don’t put your ability to live independently at risk, because falling doesn’t have to be a part of aging.

View a video demonstration of the TUG Test online at: https://youtu.be/iVXgT9OeZXk.    


Kelly Berchou, M.D., is the medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. This article is drawn and edited from a recent news release the health insurer issued, featuring Dr. Berchou’s advice.

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