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What to Do After a Fall: The Right Steps to Take

Falls can happen to anyone. In the United States, as many as one in four adults over age 65 suffers from a fall each year. Even though many falls aren't serious, others can cause real damage. Some falls can cause bruises, sprains, or even broken bones. And if you hit your head when you fall, you could be at risk for complications like a concussion or brain injury.

But how do you know what to do after a fall? If you or a loved one falls, there are certain signs you should look for that mean you should seek medical help. Seeing your doctor early can mean the difference between a fall you can walk away from and a life-changing disability.

Risk Factors

It's an unfortunate fact that your risk of falling increases as you get older. Many factors contribute to your likelihood of falling. Intrinsic factors include age-related changes that may affect your ability to stay upright. As you age, your reflexes, eyesight, and hearing all change, which can make it harder for you to balance while walking or to see objects in your path. Certain medical conditions — like heart disease, diabetes, and nerve issues — may also affect your ability to balance properly when walking.

Additionally, extrinsic and situational factors can influence your chances of falling. You may have trouble walking steadily when it's wet and slippery outside. Needing to move more quickly than usual — like rushing to answer a ringing phone, for example — may cause you to trip and lose your balance, leading to a fall.

Other risk factors that could increase your chances of falling include lower body weakness, vitamin D deficiency, foot pain, or inappropriate footwear.

What to Do After a Fall

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five falls causes a serious head injury, and falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries. If you hit your head when you fall, it's extremely important to know that you may not realize you have a serious brain injury right away. Symptoms of brain injuries may occur suddenly, but they can also take hours or days to appear. Any type of head injury has the potential to change how your brain works.

Most head injuries from falls are closed head injuries, meaning that the skull remains intact. For some people, especially those on certain types of medications like blood thinners, closed head injuries can cause bleeding in the brain and the tissue surrounding it.

If you fall and hit your head, it's important to call your doctor or 911 right away. Signs and symptoms of a moderate to serious head injury may include:

  • Abnormal behavior
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Severe headache or stiff neck
  • Unequal pupil sizes
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting

Some head injury symptoms may take a while to appear. It's important to keep a lookout for any signs that could indicate a serious injury in the hours and days after the fall.

It's always a good idea to see your doctor after a fall where you hit your head, even if you believe you're not seriously injured. Your doctor will evaluate you for injury and determine whether treatment is necessary. Untreated brain injuries have the potential to cause lasting effects that can dramatically change your life. They may result in symptoms that last a long time, or even seizures and other brain and nervous system problems. The best way to avoid these complications is by visiting your doctor soon after your fall.

While the thought of falling and injuring your head is scary, knowing what to do after a fall is key to helping you recover as quickly as possible. If you fall, be sure to see your doctor right away to rule out any serious head injuries, or to begin treatment that will help you return to good health.

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