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Vail Daily column: Protective steps for preventing falls

Judson Haims

Not too many years ago, Nancy Reagan suffered a rather public slip and fall, reminding us of the seriousness of these common occurrences for the elderly. It is with this reminder that I would like to share some fall prevention and safety tips for seniors.

As a former first lady, Nancy Reagan has frequently played an active role in public events. In 2011, Sen. Marco Rubio walked Mrs. Reagan down the aisle of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to applause from more than 1,200 guests. As they neared her seat, she lost her footing. Her cane appeared to slip on the floor and she began to fall toward a hard landing. Fortunately, Rubio caught her arm and she was assisted to her feet and then to a chair. Although the former first lady was unhurt, her public slip serves as a reminder of the serious consequences and health complications associated with the slips, trips and falls for our elderly population. It later became known that Reagan had previously suffered a fractured pelvis from a fall in 2008 that required hospitalization.

FALLS ARE NOT UNCOMMON



Falls are not unusual for individuals 65 and older — in fact, they are the second leading cause of accidental death in America.

A large percent of these falls occur in the older adult population. Age itself does not put you at risk for falls — in many cases as people age, they accumulate more conditions, illnesses and impairments that make them more prone to accidents (including but not limited to balance problems, difficulties with memory, vision, hearing problems, decreased flexibility and strength, depression, etc.). In some cases, medication prescribed to address these impairments can also contribute to these falls by causing seniors to feel off-balance, have altered blood pressure or decreased alertness.



SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one out of three adults in the 65-plus age group suffer a fall each year. The National Safety Council says that falls are the leading cause of injury deaths for individuals age 65 and older. Senior falls can have severe consequences, as Nancy Reagan previously experienced, such as head trauma, hip fractures and in some instances death. The less mobile and functional an individual is, the greater the chances of a fall. Although that statement may sound obvious, we should all be mindful of that not only with our loved-ones but also while passing a senior on the street or in the supermarket.

FALL PREVENTION TIPS



Here are some fall prevention tips to help keep yourself and your family members safe:

• Be aware of blood pressure, both while standing and sitting.

• Exercise regularly. Improve strength and balance through gentle yoga, tai chi and other strengthening exercises.

• Make your home a safer place by reducing common tripping hazards (including but not limited to clutter, rugs, poorly lit spaces, cords on the ground, etc.). The actual cause of Nancy Reagan’s fall? She tripped over a stanchion used to hold ropes for crowd control.

• It’s a good idea to install grab bars and railings in the bathroom and wherever else deemed appropriate

• Have your loved one’s eyes checked by an eye doctor frequently — at least once a year — and be sure that eyeglasses are the correct prescription.

• Wear slippers with good soles around the house and make sure to put them on if you get up and walk around at night. (Falls are more likely to happen with socks or bare feet.)

• Have a doctor review medicines, both prescription and over the counter, to determine if side effects or any interactions may cause drowsiness or dizziness

Falls not only affect the quality of life of the individual, they also influence their caregivers and family members. In most cases, the majority of senior falls occur in a familiar home environment.

Help protect your loved ones by taking the preventative steps necessary to avoid potential slips and falls.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, visit http://www.visiting angels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.


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