Karen Perry: Falls are funny only on comedy shows
March 10, 2013
While falling down is usually played for jokes on television and the Internet, for millions of older Americans it’s no laughing matter.While I was visiting with my mother recently, she took a spill. Thankfully, she was OK. But that often isn’t the case. Every 18 seconds, an older adult is in the emergency room because of a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That translates into a person 65 or older dying, due to a fall, every 35 minutes.Most falls are never reported. People don’t go to the hospital; they just go home and nurse their injuries themselves. It means the person’s loved ones or spouses often become caretakers.Many falls are due to quite preventable factors, such as weakening, losing strength, bad footwear, medication interactions, impaired vision and hazards in the home.Learning how to prevent falls not only helps people avoid injuries, it helps them preserve their independence, their ability to walk to the store, visit friends and navigate their own homes. You can help an aging parent or loved one avoid falls by following these tips. • Chronic pain: Chronic or severe pain can lead to falls in part because the body may alter posture and movement to adapt to the pain. Researchers found that those with severe pain were 77 percent more likely to fall compared with those without pain. • Test for inner-ear disorder: An inner-ear disorder may cause dizziness and affect balance. Help your loved one get tested if you suspect this. • Adjust medications: While medications can increase the risk for falls, sedatives and antidepressants may be particularly dangerous, according to an analysis of findings from 22 studies. Encourage your loved one to discuss this with his or her doctor.• Use canes and walkers properly: Improper use of canes and walkers sends 47,000 older people to the emergency room each year. Don’t borrow these devices; they should be properly fitted by a physical therapist. • Don’t let pets trip you up: Pets are responsible for 21,000 older adults being treated for falls every year. Don’t let pets lie next to the bed or at the foot of your chair, and keep their toys off the middle of the floor.• Careful going up (or down): Navigating elevators can be tricky for older adults. Between 1990 and 2006, more than half of the 2,600 elevator injuries in adults older than 65 that were severe enough to require a trip to the emergency room were the result of a slip, trip or fall. Take your time, don’t run for the elevator, and don’t stick an arm, a leg or a walker in to a closing elevator door.CORE STRENGTHOne of the most effective preventative measures to minimize falls is building core strength. Exercise that involves balance, gait and strength training such as tai chi, a Chinese martial art incorporating gentle motions and stretching, or yoga will strengthen your core; help you stand taller; reduce back pain; and give you more flexibility.Walking every day is a valuable activity, the researchers say. “We know that remaining physically active is an important piece of reducing your fall risk,” says Dr. Sharon Brangman, a geriatrician and president of the American Geriatrics society.Go to http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html to read more statistics about fall risks in the senior population.• Don’t fall; roll. Falling the right way is important. Obviously, it’s best to prevent falls from happening in the first place, but sharing these tips with an elderly loved one can help them in case they feel themselves going down.• Catch your balance by taking a quick step or two.• Look for something to grab onto.• Avoid falling on your hip if at all possible.• Try to drop and roll out of the fall.• Try not to panic if you have a fall. It is likely that you will feel shocked and a bit shaken, but staying calm will help you to gather your thoughts and remember what to do.• Do not get up quickly. Roll onto your hands and knees and find a stable piece of furniture, such as a chair or bed, to support you as you slowly get up.• Rest for a while before carrying on with your daily activities.• If you are injured or cannot get up, call for help.• Karen Perry is the executive director of The Lodge Assisted Living Facility in Carson City.