Preventing elderly falls

With clipper system after clipper system, this yo-yo winter weather has been consistently inconsistent.

One day it’s snowing and in the 30s, the next it’s below zero.

This is tough on roadways, sidewalks – and people. Warmer temperatures melt the snow and when cold weather returns, and ice forms on the sidewalks and parking lots.

These unexpected ice rinks turn normal, everyday errands turn into dangerous risks, especially among the elderly.

Each year, about one-third of all persons over age 65 will fall.

Many of these falls result in broken bones, reports the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

More than 30,000 people over the age of 65 are seriously injured in a fall each week; nearly 250 die from their injuries.

Of those who do survive a fall, 20-30 percent suffer from debilitating injuries that affect them the rest of their life, the National Safety Council says.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults 73 and older, and the second leading cause of death from ages 60-72, the National Safety Council reports.

There are many things seniors can do to help prevent falls, and maintain health and independence.

Research shows that simple safety modifications at home, where 70 percent of seniors’ falls occur, can substantially cut the risk of falling, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Obviously, preventing falls from occurring is of utmost importance.

Although it is impossible to prevent all falls, specialists at the University of Michigan Geriatrics Center suggest both improving balance through exercise to avoid falls and employing “fall-proofing” behaviors in and around the home to reduce risks.

Accidental falls and the paranoia that comes with them can be prevented through exercise and balance and through simple changes in behaviors while away and at home.

Exercise and the balancing act

Exercise, particularly balance exercise, works to strengthen and sustain the older adult during everyday activities. Balance exercises might provide the strength the older adult needs in order to catch himself or herself before falling completely, University of Michigan experts said.

This means adding muscle strength and control to be able to do the difficult transfer activities such as standing up, lifting oneself up out of a bed, chair or bathtub and also climbing stairs.

Exercise balance techniques:

– Stand on one foot.

– Walk heel-to-toe.

– Take a rapid step forward or backward.

– Add challenges as you progress, such as using only one hand then no hands to stabilize yourself. Advance to closing your eyes while practicing balance techniques.

– Remember “anywhere, everywhere” exercises such as standing on one foot while doing dishes.

University of Michigan experts stress the importance of having a stable support nearby, such as a kitchen counter or heavy chair-anything strong enough to prop you up while practicing balance techniques.

When balance becomes an issue, a specialist should be consulted to determine how to improve the situation.

Fall-proofing the home also helps.

Although making the home safer and changing risky habits does not consistently prevent falls, fall-proofing is still a positive step to take in reducing the risk of accidents.

Fall-proofing the home:

– Remove unstable furniture that tests balance, such as a wobbly chair.

– Eliminate slippery or clustered rugs in the walkways. Only use flooring that is firmly attached or non-skid.

– Arrange furniture and other objects so they don’t interfere with walking.

– Place grab bars by tubs, showers and toilets.

– Make sure to have tightly fastened handrails on staircases, porches and front walkways.

– Instead of wearing heels, slick soles or slippers when walking, wear shoes with traction or grip. But, be aware- the traction on the shoes can cause tripping, especially when moving from linoleum to carpet.

– Install adequate lighting in stairwells, hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms and make sure light switches are easily accessible. Use nightlights.

– Remove electrical cords and telephone wires from walkways.

– Have couches and chairs at a proper height for effortless standing up and sitting down.

– Place a telephone in each room or carry a cordless phone or cell phone with you to avoid having to rush to answer a call.

– Take extra precautions on uneven, wet, or icy pavements.

Steer clear of high-risk behaviors:

– Avoid taking chances, such as walking on a freshly washed floor or a patch of ice.

– Instead of standing on a chair or table to reach something, try investing in a reaching tool to do the work.

– Be aware of carrying something while climbing stairs. If you must, try to have one hand on the object and the other on a sturdy handrail.

– Avoid talking while walking in unfamiliar territory. Curbs and cracks can be hazardous when not paying attention.

– Don’t get up too quickly after eating, lying down or resting. Rapid changes may cause dizziness.

– Simplify activities. Multi-tasking usually means carelessness.