Be Well

Take the Right Steps to Prevent Falls

9/21/2021

According to the CDC, every second of the day, someone age 65 and over falls in the United States. One in four older adults will experience a fall, and one in five falls results in a broken bone, too often a hip fracture. Slips and falls are NOT a “normal” part of aging and they can be prevented.

People in a falls prevention class

According to the CDC, every second of the day, someone age 65 and over falls in the United States. One in four older adults will experience a fall, and one in five falls results in a broken bone, too often a hip fracture. Slips and falls are NOT a “normal” part of aging and they can be prevented.

Most falls can be prevented

So far this year, 40-73 patients a month came to the emergency room at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, MN, with fall-related injuries. Mary Gray is director of rehab for Lakeview Hospital and HealthPartners Stillwater. She has seen patients with hip, wrist and rib fractures from falls, as well as concussions and head trauma, muscle and joint pain. Mary says people of all ages fall, but the majority of them are older adults. And many don’t seek medical care after a fall because they’re afraid of losing their independence. She cautions against this. “Most falls can be prevented, so it’s important to talk with your care provider for a comprehensive assessment of your vision, muscles, balance, strength and medications to determine your risk of falling and provide strategies to decrease your risk of falling.”

Holly Klink agrees with Mary. She’s a nurse practitioner in orthopedics at Sanford Health in Worthington, MN, treating adults with fall-related fractures. She says, “Older adults are at a higher risk for losing mobility when they fall. Their healing time is usually longer and more complicated. That’s why prevention is really important.” Holly suggests keeping a phone or other alert device with you at all times. She’s had patients who laid on the floor for a long time because they didn’t have a way to call for help.

Know your risks

Underlying medical conditions such as low blood pressure or vertigo can add to your risk for falls. “If someone comes in and says they’ve fallen several times, I know something else is going on,” says Holly. One of my patients fell three times in a week. It’s not normal to fall that many times, so I asked her why she thinks she fell, and she said, ‘I think it could be my diabetes medication,’ so I encouraged her to make an appointment to get it checked out.”

A lot of the patients Holly sees at the Sanford Clinic make frequent trips to the bathroom for many reasons, including diuretic medication. Getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom is risky business when it comes to falls, so she encourages people to light a clear path and keep a night light on in the bathroom.

Holly also wants people to know that if you’re feeling weakness in your legs and arms make a plan for strengthening your muscles. An exercise class, a self-help video or asking your healthcare provider for a physical therapy referral can help. Holly says, “Light weight-lifting is easy and can make a difference. Juniper’s evidence-based exercise classes are a great way to get started.”

“Stay connected with your family and others in your circle of support,” she adds, “and let them know about your challenges rather than keeping them to yourself to avoid losing your independence. If you fall and break a hip, a shoulder or a wrist, you are at much greater risk of losing independence. Work together with you family and friends to maintain your strength to prevent falls.”

Most falls happen in your home

As the community risk reduction officer with the Minneapolis Fire Department (MFD), Casidy Anderson is in charge of education and outreach for injury prevention. She says most falls happen in or near a person’s home and the emergency calls from slips and falls the MFD responds to are from people doing what they do every day. “We’re used to our routines and as we get older, we become more set in them. Maybe you’ve had a throw rug in the same place in your home forever, but suddenly it’s become a hazard because you’re shuffling your feet now, or you’re using a walker. bad lighting also causes falls, especially when your eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so be aware of hazards in your home and unsafe habits that could cause you to slip and fall.”

Casidy wants you to know that it’s not unusual for the fire department to respond to a 911 call, simply because they can respond more quickly and care for injured people until the ambulance arrives. Fire stations are also a public resource, where you can stop in to get your blood pressure checked, get answers to your questions and direction on how to prevent falls in your home. You can also ask your healthcare provider about the community paramedics program that brings experts into your home to provide a safety assessment.

Tips for preventing falls

The experts that we interviewed for this article agree on the main causes of falls among older Minnesotans, and offer these basic tips:

  1. Do exercises that maintain strength and improve your balance
  2. Don’t use throw rugs
  3. Avoid floor clutter, like magazines, boxes, and other items
  4. Make sure your home has good lighting and pay particular attention to lighting your path to the bathroom and kitchen in case you get up in the night
  5. Quickly clean up spills on bathroom and kitchen floors
  6. Use grab bars in the tub and shower
  7. Wear proper shoes even indoors, not just socks, unless they have grips on their bottom
  8. Get annual eye exams and correct issues with eyesight
  9. Be aware of where your pets are and don’t trip over them
  10. Make sure electrical cords aren’t tripping hazards
  11. Clear snow and ice from outdoor surfaces in the winter
  12. Be aware of habits that could lead to injury, such as standing on a step stool and moving too fast to notice what’s in front of you

Juniper classes are proven to help

Juniper offers in-person and online classes to help you prevent falls. Stepping On and A Matter of Balance help you take steps to minimize your risks, including making changes in your physical environment. Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance and Staying Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) are ongoing exercise programs that help strengthen your muscles and improve your balance.

During September 20–24, Falls Prevention Awareness week, Juniper is offering four free online information sessions that will raise your falls prevention IQ.

 

To find an upcoming class, go to yourjuniper.org, choose a class from the select class menu and click search.

Take the right steps to prevent falls!

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