Monday, September 23, 2013

Fight the Fall

     Dick Van Dyke could make a fall funny, but in reality falls can lead to severe hip fractures, broken wrists and brain injuries—and that’s no laughing matter. The second main cause of trauma injuries in patients seen at Meritus Medical Center’s emergency department stems from falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every three adults age 65 and older fall each year.

     Adding to the problem, 35 percent of people who fall become less active. Meritus Medical Center EMS administrative specialist Kelly Llewellyn, RN, finds that when seniors fall, even without sustaining an injury, it frightens and prevents them from living life to the fullest.

Fall investigation
     “There’s a myth that falls are a normal part of aging, but they are preventable,” says Kelly. But first, you must know the how and why of a fall. Most of us visualize older adults falling in the bath tub or down the stairs, but Kelly points out that falls often occur in the common living areas. Culprits include throw rugs, extension cords or pet toys in traffic areas. In addition, poorly lit hallways, cluttered walkways and stairs, as well as a lack of handrails on stairs, tubs and showers contribute to tumbles.

     Less than half of seniors who fall talk to their health care provider about it, but a physician can help determine a fall’s cause such as weak muscles, balance problems or drug interactions resulting in dizziness. Some physicians may refer patients to a physical therapist to help with muscle weakness or inner ear problems and recommend therapies to improve the condition. Exercise like yoga and tai chi can also increase leg strength and balance.

An ounce of prevention
     “Fall prevention is vital to maintaining personal independence among older adults,” explains Kelly. Meritus Health’s Community Health Education and the Washington County Health Department offer Stepping On, a researched-based fall prevention program. Here, participants learn to shop for safe footwear, check for home safety and understand how vision, medication and strength training can help or affect balance. Health professionals facilitate a seven-week course that include visits from a physical therapist, a pharmacist, a vision expert and a community safety officer.

     Statistics indicate that people who fall once are more likely to fall again in the same year. Kelly recommends Stepping On to adults who have experienced a fall and to those who want to prevent accidents from occurring. “The course gives people the confidence to continue to do activities they enjoy and keep them safe,” says Kelly. “The more mobile people remain, the better their lifestyle.”

     During Fall Prevention Awareness Week, Sept. 23-27, Meritus Health will feature a table in the Robinwood Professional Center atrium with literature and educational information. A demonstration of “Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance” will occur on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at noon and 12:45 p.m.

     “People need to be empowered to know how to prevent falls. They don’t have to accept falls as a normal part of aging,” states Kelly. For more information on Stepping On or Fall Prevention Awareness Week, call 301-790-8907.

By: Anne Gill

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