Seniors are at risk from the effects of falls

Posted Sept. 13, 2012, at 11:21 a.m.

Don’t shoot the messenger, but Saturday, Sept. 22, is the first day of fall. It is no small coincidence that this date was chosen to be the National Falls Prevention Awareness Day. For the last five years, these two days have coincided to serve as a reminder of the danger of falls among older people.

The statistics are staggering. According to the National Council on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control, every 15 seconds, nationwide, a senior is treated in the emergency room for a fall. One-third of seniors 65 and older fall annually and worse, about every half-hour, a senior dies after taking a fall.

Even if a fall does not incur an injury, detrimental ramifications exist because the subsequent fear of falling again can cause a curtailment of favorite activities leading to physical decline, depression and isolation.

So clearly it’s important to stay upright. According to Dr. Robert Anderson, Jr., in a story titled “Falls: What an Emergency Room Doctor Wants You to Know, “that first appeared in Southern Maine Agency on Aging’s newsletter, “Senior News, a “fall is a warning sign that something is going on.””

Usually there is a combination of reasons that a person falls. Sometimes they’re clear cut like tripping on the area rug (get rid of them), but sometimes the cause takes some detective work on the part of the doctor, so be up front about the scenario surrounding the fall. What were you doing, carrying, and wearing on your feet? Had you taken any meds recently?

Take a fall seriously though even if you didn’t get hurt. One fall can lead to another and you might not be so lucky the next time.

Anderson offers advice if you have experienced a fall:

• If you have fallen, even once, alert your doctor. Explain that you are concerned about the reasons for the fall and ask for help.

• If you end up in the emergency department or the hospital after a fall, ask the doctors taking care of you why they think you fell.

• Take an active role in managing your medications. If you are not sure what your medicines are for, ask your doctor. Taking numerous medications increases falls-risk because of side effects or drug interactions. Important note: Every time you visit your doctor, ask if any of your medications can be discontinued.

There are some things you can do to help prevent a fall at home. I know we all love having our “stuff” around us, but take a long hard look around you. Is there clutter in the pathways?

Are you saying to yourself right now, “Yes, but I know it’s there so I won’t trip over it.” Can you be sure?

How is your vision? Even a slight adjustment in glasses can make a world of difference.

Is your bedroom or bathroom well lit? There are battery-operated nightlights that you just press to turn on. They can be stuck on or nailed to walls, within reach, and will give you an added glow to maneuver darkened hallways.

Think about enrolling in a Matter of Balance class that has been proven to prevent falls.

If you are homebound, give Gentiva Home Healthcare a call. That company’s unique balance increasing program, Safe Strides, is based on physical therapy and helps people who are at a high risk of falling. It is geared to improving independence and safety within the home and community.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, in honor of National Falls Prevention Awareness Day, why not make a personal vow to focus on reducing your risk of falling? You can work on devising a personal plan to help you achieve that goal. Call Eastern Area Agency on Aging if you need help and we will guide you.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at EAAA. For information, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email info@eaaa.org or visit www.EAAA.org.

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