By Elissa Bass - LumenMD.com

Taking a spill. Taking a tumble. Taking a nosedive. All these ways of talking about falling down are quaint, even cute. But for older people, falling is no laughing matter.

According to recent column in The New York Times, health expert Jane Brody notes that “Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. Every 19 minutes in this country, an older person dies from a fall.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control notes that in 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available), total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion. Also:

  • Each year, millions of people 65 and older are treated in emergency departments because of falls.
  • More than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a broken hip or head injury.
  • Fall injuries are among the 20 most expensive medical conditions.
  • The average hospital cost for a fall injury is more than $30,000.
  • The costs of treating fall injuries goes up with age.

And even if there is no physical harm from the fall — such as a broken bone — there can be an emotional and psychological toll. “A frequent aftermath when older people fall is a heightened fear of falling, prompting them to limit their activities and cause further physical decline, depression and social isolation, which in turn can hasten death,” Brody writes.

A common cause of falling among older adults is peripheral neuropathy, which is brought about  by damage to the peripheral nerves. It often causes weakness, numbness, and pain, typically in the hands and feet. It can become chronic for many patients, lasting years or even a lifetime. A common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes, but it can also be caused by chemotherapy treatment for cancer, an injury or infection, or exposure to toxins.

Peripheral neuropathy reduces nerves ability to send signals to the brain due to lack of blood flow. This can impair muscle movement in the affected area, prevent normal sensation in the arms and legs, and cause pain. It typically affects toes, feet, legs, hands, and arms.

Peripheral neuropathies are common, especially among people over the age of 55. It is estimated that at least 20 million people in the United States suffer from debilitating foot and leg nerve pain from peripheral neuropathy.

If the underlying cause of peripheral neuropathy isn't treated, you may be at risk of developing potentially serious complications. Often loss of sensation increases the risk of falling, especially for older patients.

Peripheral neuropathy cannot be cured. It can, however, be managed through treatment.

If you have these feelings or sensations of numbness in your toes, feet, lower legs, hands or arms, consult your physician, especially if you are already being treated for diabetes.

The most prevalent treatments for peripheral neuropathy are pregabalin and duloxetine, which are the only medications approved for treatment of its symptoms by the FDA.

However, an increasing number of patients are treating their peripheral neuropathy symptoms with Near Infrared therapy (NIR). NIR, which is listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is a painless, drug-free, prescription-free and non-invasive treatment for peripheral neuropathy symptoms.

Ask your doctor about NIR therapy. Research supports the conclusion that Near Infrared therapy is successful in treating peripheral neuropathy. Of patients receiving the therapy, 72 percent reported an improvement in foot sensitivity, and 63 percent reported an improvement in balance. In one study, patients showed that in addition to improved sensation, pain was reduced by 37 percent to 54 percent on those treated with NIR Energy (in combination with physical therapy).

Further studies showed that NIR treatments combined with a physical therapy regimen produce the best results.

Falling is scary. The fear of falling can be debilitating. For more information on Near Infrared therapy, click here.