Are you at risk for a fall in your home?
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June is National Safety Month, a time to raise awareness and reduce injuries at work and in our homes and communities. A National Safety Council report on unintentional injuries shows that falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for adults age 65 and older.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four older adults falls each year. In addition, more than 300,000 hip fractures are reported every year, and 95% of those are from falls. Many of these falls occur within the home.
Kenna Young, trauma coordinator with the LMH Health emergency department, says falls are the No. 1 trauma issue dealt with in the emergency department, particularly for seniors.
“We are always interested in decreasing falls, particularly for older patients,” she said. “In many cases, life is never the same after a major fall for an older adult.”
Statistics from Age Safe America show that falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions and 40% of all nursing home admissions. Of those admissions, 40% will never return to independent living and 25% will die within one year.
Although those numbers may seem bleak, the good news is that many falls are preventable. The reasons for falls can be as simple as stepping off a curb or losing balance when standing or while turning around too quickly. Falls can also be caused by improper footwear, vision impairment, muscle weakness or drug interactions.
As National Safety Month draws to a close, implement these easy safety precautions in your home to ensure you don’t become a statistic:
• Remove clutter, electrical cords and unsecured rugs or runners in high-traffic areas.
• Provide adequate lighting in every room and stairway and use nightlights in the kitchen, bath, and hallways.
• Make items you use often easily accessible without the need for stools or extended reaching.
• Use nonslip adhesive strips on stairs.
• Install grab bars in the tub, shower and near the toilet.
Maintain strength and balance
Maintaining muscle strength and improving balance can also help prevent falls. Spend a few minutes each day doing simple exercises such as side leg lifts with the support of a chair to help maintain muscle strength. Other exercises such as flexing and stretching joints, standing with support on one foot, and rocking from heel to toe can improve balance.
Harvard Medical School touts the value of exercise in preventing falls and even reversing some of the many conditions associated with aging. Multiple studies identify tai chi as an excellent activity to improve both balance and muscle tone. Tai chi can be practiced while standing, from a seated position or even in a wheelchair. A PubMed.gov study shows that inactive older adults who participate in tai chi three times a week decrease their risk of falls by 55%.
If you are interested in working on strength and balance, there are many options to help you with strength training and balance. Tai chi classes are available through LMH Health and the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department.
LMH Health also offers a seven-week course called Stepping On. The nationally recognized program challenges older persons to appraise their fall risk realistically and provides a forum for gaining and applying knowledge about safety practices. To learn about the next available session, go to lmh.org or call LMH Connect Care at 785-505-5800.
Drug interactions and vision changes
Side effects and interactions from medications can cause dizziness and changes in vision. If you experience these issues or other sudden changes in balance or equilibrium, ask your doctor to review your current list of medications. They can identify medications or interactions that may cause these changes, particularly with the addition of short-term treatments.
This is particularly important with new prescriptions or a change in dosage, as the side effects can often cause new symptoms that may leave you feeling dizzy or unstable. Be sure to consult your pharmacist and your physician and discuss ways to eliminate these symptoms before you have a serious fall.
Although these solutions seem small, they can prevent the risk of a serious fall. These safety measures take just a few moments to implement but provide long-term assurances that allow you and others to stay safe in your home. Eliminating potential hazards, taking a few minutes to work on muscle strength and balance and checking your current medications will help ensure you won’t face a fall that may change your life and independence in an instant.
Visit the National Safety Council at nsc.org for more information about National Safety Month and for safety tips.
— Michelle Meier is the director of community engagement for the Senior Resource Center for Douglas County, a community partner of LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s Health section. She can be reached at 785-842-0543.