Assessing risk of falls can add to seniors’ safety quotient

Posted June 17, 2014, at 2:35 p.m.

Senior Beat

Carol Higgins Taylor

Eastern Area Agency on Aging

No cause for alarm but I took a spill about a month ago. It just goes to show that falling can happen to anyone, even an anti-fall advocate.

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How did this occur, you wonder? I was wearing shoes that were too big but really cute. I could manage, I thought. I’d be extra careful, I vowed. But when the sole of the shoe caught on the threshold of the door as I entered, all bets were off, including me as I sailed across the floor on my hands.

Residual shoulder pain aside, I am fine, but so much more the wiser. First off, don’t get cocky and think a fall can’t happen to you. Secondly, wear shoes that fit well, no matter what.

One of the best things you can do is schedule a Falls-Risk Assessment from Eastern Area Agency on Aging, which will give you a great baseline for your current balance status.

During an assessment, you will give a personal history regarding previous falls because if you’ve experienced a fall in the past, you have an increased risk of falling again.

Then, the assessor will take a look at your medications because some can cause dizziness. Be sure to bring your med list with you. You’ll be questioned about your home environment, for instance are there tripping hazards such as throw rugs, clutter and obstructed pathways. You will take a vision test to determine how well you can see your surroundings. After all, poor eyesight can contribute to a fall.

Then there is a “reach test,” where you reach out as far as you possibly can without losing your balance and toppling over. For safety purposes, the assessor will be standing in front of you the whole time.

And finally, the “stand up and walk test.” You will be timed on how long it takes for you to stand up from a chair and walk a pre-determined distance, approximately 10 feet. The longer it takes to complete the test, the higher your falls-risk.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to decrease your risk of falling:

• Speak with your doctor about medications that may cause dizziness. Also, be mindful of standing up too quickly after sleeping or sitting for long periods, which can make you dizzy as well.

• To further prevent falls, keep pathways clear, store commonly used items in low, easily reached cabinets so step stools are unnecessary, and have grab bars installed in the bathroom next to the shower and toilet, and keep nightclothes above the ankle to avoid tripping.

• Get rid of area rugs, also known as throw rugs. Simply put, they are dangerous. If you must have some, be sure to anchor them under a heavy piece of furniture.

• Don’t try to carry too many items at a time from one place to another in an effort to save a few steps. Only carry what you can comfortably manage.

• Use nightlights in darkened hallways and in bathrooms.

• And speaking of bathrooms, make a note to put non-slip decals or a rubber mat in the tub and have grab bars installed for extra assistance.

• When walking on uneven ground or if you’re in unfamiliar territory use a cane. Inexpensive and decorative ones can be found where medical supplies are sold.

• And finally, if you have shoes with slippery soles head to a shoe store and ask for anti-slip sole protectors or non-slip grip pads to stick on the bottom of the shoes.

A little vigilance and forethought can help keep you upright.

Carol Higgins Taylor is the director of community education at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865 or go to eaaa.org.

 

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