Falls Prevention Awareness Day

The Injury and Violence Prevention Program within the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), along with the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging (OSA), recognized Falls Prevention Awareness Day on Sunday, the first official calendar day of fall, by taking preventive steps to protect Michigan seniors.

“By raising awareness with Michigan seniors, caregivers, and family members, we can greatly reduce the number of falls by educating Michiganders about the fall risk factors and preventative measures they can take to safeguard themselves and their homes,” said James K. Haveman, Director of the MDCH.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries for Americans 65 and older. In 2011, falls resulted in 734 deaths for people aged 65 and older, and 16,304 people of this same age group were hospitalized from fall-injuries throughout Michigan.

Fall related deaths are on the rise as the numbers reflect a 31 percent rate increase from 2005.

Nationally, more than 18,000 older Americans die each year because of a fall, and the rate has risen dramatically over the last 10 years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls among older adults cost the U.S. health care system upwards of $30 billion dollars annually.

In a recent report by the CDC, more than 31 percent of people age of 65 and older reported at least one fall in 2010.

“There are numerous preventive measures that you can learn about to keep yourself, your friends, and your loved ones safe from falls,” said OSA Director Kari Sederburg. “I encourage everyone to learn more about this important issue facing older adults in our great state.”

Studies show that a number of easy steps can significantly reduce falls with older adults.

Experts recommend a physical activity regimen with balance, strength training, and flexibility components; consulting with a health professional about getting a fall risk assessment; having medications reviewed periodically; getting eyes checked annually; and making sure the home environment is safe and supportive.

Senior centers across the United States have programs like Matter of Balance and Tai Chi which help older adults gain strength, improve balance, and increase confidence to help them live healthier lives and preserve their independence.

Experts also offer some 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.