Archive for Sunday, September 8, 2002

Precautions can prevent life-altering falls

September 8, 2002


I'm an 80-year-old widow living on my own. My friends worry about their finances, their safety from crime and the possibility of cancer. My big worry is more simple. I'm afraid I'm going to fall and break my hip. A fall seems to be the beginning of the end for so many older people. What can I do to make sure I'm safe other than not getting out of bed?

What a smart question. It is estimated that one-third of seniors will fall this year, 11 million people, and 15 percent will be seriously hurt. New research released in August is important: Healthy elderly people living on their own who exercised in a group weekly and on their own twice a week were less likely to fall, according to the results of an Australian study.

Researchers at Monash University in Victoria randomly assigned 1,090 people aged 70 to 84 to an exercise program, home hazard management, vision improvement or combinations of these interventions. The exercise component included a one-hour weekly exercise class supplemented by daily home exercise. About one-third of the exercises were designed to improve balance, flexibility and leg strength.

Patients who exercised were 18 percent less likely to fall during the course of the study. Researchers also found exercising in a class or group at least once a week helped. People just weren't good at doing exercises on their own at home.

Studies show that you need a combination of three types of exercise:

Weight-training for strength,

Aerobic exercise for endurance

Calisthenics (stretching) for flexibility.

Walking is a great form of aerobic exercise. Stretching and bending you can also probably handle on your own. Weight training is a bit more complicated. You can either work out with free weights such as barbells and dumbbells or with special equipment that works various parts of the body. If you have not worked with weights before, be sure to have qualified people instruct you in their use and have them set up a program of exercises that includes the specified number of repetitions to be done in each set as you progress toward your goal.

Local fitness facilities and even senior centers often offer a variety of exercise programs. Get into one of these and do some of your exercise with other people it will add motivation.

The other aspect of fall prevention is home hazard management. Here are some tips from the National Safety Council:

Keep the floor clear. Reduce clutter and safely tuck telephone and electrical chords out of walkways.

Use nonskid throw rugs to reduce your chance of slipping on linoleum.

Install handrails in stairways. Have grab bars in the bathroom (by toilets and in tub/shower).

Make sure living areas are well lit. We can all trip and fall in the dark.

Be aware that climbing and reaching high places will increase your chance of a fall. Use a sturdy stepstool with hand rails when these tasks are necessary.

Follow medication dosages closely. Using medication incorrectly may lead to dizziness, weakness and other side effects. These can lead to a dangerous fall.

If you have a question or comment for "Sense for Seniors," write to Betty Gibb, Kansas Senior Press Service, 11875 S. Sunset, Suite 200, Olathe 66061. You can also call (913) 477-8103 or send e-mail to

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