SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Elder care and falls prevention

Maureen Wendt

Did you know?

— 1 in 4 Americans age 65 and over fall each year.

— Every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall.

— Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.

— Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and most common cause of hospital admissions.

— Falls cost around $50 billion per year; Medicare and Medicaid shoulders 75% of these costs.

— Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes.

— Of those who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that reduce mobility and independence and increase the risk of premature death.

— 20% of older people who break a hip from falling die within a year of their injury.

Falls are not inevitable.

According to the National Safety Council, most falls are preventable. Older adults are more prone to become the victim of falls and the resulting injuries can diminish the ability to lead an active, independent life. Risk factors include physical hazards in the environment, age-related issues and health conditions. Reduce your risk and find fall hazards in your workplace and home to prevent injuries and keep others safe round the clock.

Falls are by far the leading unintentional injury, accounting for more than 8.7 million emergency room visits each year in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following tips can greatly help older adults prevent falls, but are beneficial to those of all ages.

Stay active: Chances of falling can be reduced by improving strength and balance. Examples of activities include brisk walking, tai chi and yoga. Research has shown that falls reduction programs that include exercise are most effective for reducing falls risk. It is often assumed that these programs are effective because they improve physical performance, such as greater muscle strength and balance. A team of researchers at the University of British Columbia propose a different explanation for the effectiveness of exercise for falls reduction. They hypothesize that the improved cognitive function that can result from exercise has a greater role in falls prevention than do balance and strength.

Fall-proof your home: This includes removing all tripping hazards — extension cords, throw rugs and items that interfere with where you walk are hazardous. Assistive devices, such as hand rails in the bathroom can be a life saver, as well. This time of year, be cautious of wet leaves on the sidewalk or driveway.

Review your medications: Have your doctor or pharmacist review all the medications you take both prescription and over-the-counter. Some medications or combination of medicines can make you drowsy or light-headed, which can potentially lead to a fall.

Check your vision: It's best to have your vision checked at least once a year to make sure you have the best prescription for your glasses. Poor vision greatly increases your risk of falling.

The growth in the aging population, the desire of mature adults to remain independent, and the rising cost of health care and long term care make preventing and reducing falls a paramount importance in promoting healthy aging.

To learn more about how to prevent falls, The Dale Association will host a Falls Prevention workshop on Wednesday, March 18th at 12:30 p.m. Jeremy Mang of Absolut Care and Laurence VonEuw of Lockport Home Medical are presenters. They will discuss fall risks, why people fall (poor vision, medication changes, etc.), and tips and what to do if there is a fall. The presentation will also include demonstration of the proper use of assistive devices and accommodations to help make your home safer, as well as a discussion about the appropriate use of tools like canes, walkers, etc. to avoid falls.

My hope in providing this information is that older adults will have fewer falls and fall related injuries, thus maximizing their independence and quality of life. The presentation is free and will take place at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario St., Lockport. Please call 433-1886 to reserve your seat.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .

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