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All Can Fall

Falls Aren't Just For Seniors

It is common knowledge that seniors are at a higher risk for falls, but did you know that anyone can suffer a devastating fall as a result of vestibular dysfunction?

The vestibular system lives in the inner ear and tells the brain where we are relative to our surroundings. If the vestibular system is damaged due to illness or injury, a person might experience dizziness, imbalance, disorientation, or even spinning vertigo. This can happen to anyone, at any age.

Whether you are 60 years old or 16 years old, if you have a vestibular disorder you should take precautions to prevent a fall.

Falling Down on the Job

By Cindy Price

If you’ve had a vestibular disorder for a while, you may start to think of being dizzy as your new normal. When that happens, it’s easy to let your guard down. And when you do that, you become more susceptible to falls, no matter what your age.

When I fell recently, I explained away my knee injury as the result of “not paying attention” and missing a stair step, but it was so much more than that. After all, I’d dismissed the idea years ago that I could fall on these stairs: The relative safety of the home’s staircases was a key factor in my decision to buy my house.  

Here are the factors that actually led to my fall:

  • My baseline dizziness. I always have a general sense of dizziness that’s easily worsened by movement.
  • I was adjusting to a new medication. I was experiencing several temporary side effects from this prescription, which blurred my vision, made me dizzier than usual and made me constantly anxious.
  • I was distracted. My husband and I were installing a light outside, and I knew he was still on the ladder as I went downstairs to flip the breaker switch. Normally, this wouldn’t make me anxious, but my new medication left me nervous knowing he was on the ladder without me holding it. I was distracted as I tried to go downstairs and return as quickly as possible.
  • Lack of safety features. As safe as I considered this staircase to be—with wide stairs and non-slip gripping—it doesn’t have a hand rail.
  • Poor lighting. I hadn’t turned on every light possible. That, combined with my slightly blurred vision, created just enough room for error for me to miss the final step.

I bruised three bones that day. My knee specialist said the damage to my femur was severe enough that he would have recommended I keep all weight off that leg for several weeks had he seen me earlier. But we vestibular patients know the road to diagnosis is often much longer than we expect.

Most falls are preventable, but it’s up to us as patients with chronic dizziness and/or imbalance to take the steps to prevent them.

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