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As I was growing up, it was common to hear that my grandma had fallen or tripped again and broken a bone. She would fall getting out of bed in the morning. She would slip on a driveway or sidewalk. She would bump her foot into something and break a toe. Once, at a church get-together, someone accidentally bumped into her, and she fell and broke several bones! Each time she fell, her recovery was always slow and painful, and afterwards she never quite returned to normal—she was always suffering the consequences of the latest fall.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three older Americans (age 65 or older) will fall each year, causing 95% of the hip fractures that occur. In 2010, there were 285,000 hip fractures among elderly Americans, 2.3 million visits to the emergency room and 21,700 deaths. These numbers are alarming, but not really surprising—especially if you’ve had the same experiences with your grandparents as I’ve had with mine.

I thought that falls among the elderly were inevitable and normal, but I now see the flaws in that line of thinking. Falls are usually a symptom of other problems and, in many situations, can be avoided. Think of how many injuries or deaths could be prevented each year.

The Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, at the University of Southern California Andrus Gerontology Center, highlights three areas that senior citizens and their loved ones can address in order to prevent falls:

1. Medical Management

It is important to work closely with health professionals. Visit your doctor and optometrist regularly and always discuss whether or not you are susceptible to falling. Several factors can add to your risk: osteoporosis, being over age 80, changes in balance and walking, changes in vision and sensation, and taking multiple medications. Some medications cause dizziness and increase your risk of falling—be aware of the side effects associated with your medications. If you know you are at risk, work with your doctors to take extra precautions to avoid falling.

2. Balance and Mobility

Regular exercise that focuses on balance, flexibility and strength will increase your mobility and lessen your chances of falling. Older Americans need to spend time each day exercising, even if it’s just a few minutes. Daily exercise will reduce your risk of falling and increase your recovery time after a fall. And if you fall, do not limit your activities and movement for fear of falling again. That is the worst thing to do. Slowly, when you are able, start exercising again and build up your strength. There are plenty of fun activities that also serve as low-impact exercise: walking, dancing, Tai Chi, lifting light weights, leg and arm stretches, etc.

3. Environmental Modifications

Sometimes there are factors at home or in your community that could cause falls. Work to make your home a safe place. Add extra railings or handholds along stairways, front steps and in bathrooms. Remove any hazards that may cause you to trip. Make sure stairways are well-lighted and each step is easy-to-distinguish. In your community, it may be harder to control conditions, but you should report sidewalks that are full of cracks or holes. Alert your community to the hazards and encourage them to make repairs.

Falling does not have to be a normal part of aging. Senior citizens do not have to suffer fall after fall, like my grandma did. With awareness and prevention, falls can be avoided, as well as the accompanying hospital visits, broken bones, painful recoveries, and unnecessary deaths.