Haims: Fall prevention and safety tips for seniors
Years ago, Nancy Reagan suffered a rather public slip and fall, reminding us of the seriousness of these common occurrences with 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, Reagan has frequently played an active role in public events. In 2011, Sen. Marco Rubio walked Mrs. Reagan down the aisle of the Reagan Library to applause from over 1,200 guests. As they neared her seat, she lost her footing. Mrs. Reagan’s cane appeared to slip on the floor and she began to fall toward a hard landing. Fortunately, Sen. Rubio caught her arm and Mrs. Reagan was assisted to her feet and then to a chair.
Although Mrs. Reagan 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. It later became known that Mrs. Reagan had previously suffered a fractured pelvis from a fall in 2008 that required hospitalization.
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, alter blood pressure or decrease alertness.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one out of three adults in the 65+ 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, even 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 with not only our loved ones, but also while passing a senior on the street or in the supermarket.
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 — try leg strength, improved balance, gentle yoga, and other strengthening exercises such as Tai Chi.
- 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 ones 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.
Medications too often contribute to fall concerns. Drowsiness, dizziness, sleepiness and low blood pressure are frequently associated with side effects of prescribed medications to help people sleep, or to help with anxiety. These class of drugs are called benzodiazepines, and common brand names include Ativan, Valium, Restoril and Xanax.
Muscle weakness is also a primary concern in attempting to mitigate the risk of falls. The World Health Organization reported that individuals with muscle weakness are four times more likely to fall compared to those with normal muscle strength. As people age and natural physiological changes occur, muscles often become less toned and less able to contract. This often contributes to fall risks.
Our local physical therapy providers have therapists specifically trained to help people with balance concerns. A few providers we have worked with are Mary Witt at Competitive Edge Physical Therapy and Fitness, Jointworx Physical Therapy located in Edwards and Avon and AXIS Sports Medicine located throughout our mountain communities — Avon, Edwards, Eagle in addition to Silverthorne and Breckenridge.
Howard Head Sports Medicine has developed a very specific program to address balance and falls called Brain & Balance. The program helps treat stroke patients, Parkinson’s patients and those with impaired balance and proprioception concerns.
Falls not only affect the quality of life of the individual, they also have an impact on the caregivers and family members who provide assistance.
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. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.