McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

January 29, 2013

Easy prevention to reducing older adults’ risk of falling

By LaDell Emmons
Special Correspondent

McALESTER — Although even the most sure-footed among us take the occasional spill, the chances of tripping or falling increase sharply as we age. The good news is that most falls can be prevented.

Balance and gait, vision and medications commonly contribute to older adults’ falls along with the living environment and chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis.

Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in adults age 65 and older. Even if they aren’t hurt, there’s a chance older adults could become nervous or scared of staying active after taking a spill. Directly enlisting the help and support of an older adult is one way to reduce the risk of falls.

More specifically, you should simply ask older family members if they are concerned about falling. If the answer is yes, encourage them to discuss their worries with a health care provider, who can properly assess and address concerns.

Taking the time to talk with older adults in your family about their health, most recent eye exam and current medications also will help cut down the risk of falls. Make sure your older loved ones are taking advantage of all the preventative benefits offered under Medicare, such as the annual wellness visit.

Ensure their vision prescriptions are not only up-to-date, but that they are actually wearing their glasses or contacts. If they’re struggling with their medications, have the prescriptions reviewed at each visit to the doctor.

Other strategies for preventing falls among older adults include using physical therapy or relying on assistive technology. Pay close attention to the way older family members move. Are they holding on to walls or someone when walking? Do they have problems getting out of chairs? A trained physical therapist can help improve balance, strength and gait through exercise.

Assistive technology such as canes, walkers and other aids must be fitted properly or they could do more harm than good. Finally, performing a simple, but thorough safety assessment of an older adult’s home could identify potential hazards.

Common fixes could include increasing the lighting, especially near the top and bottom of stairs, installing secure rails along both sides of staircases and putting grab bars in the tub or shower and near the toilet. Reducing clutter and rearranging or removing furniture and other hazards to make it easier to move around also could go a long way in preventing falls.

For guidance on how to conduct an assessment, review the Centers for Disease Control’s home assessment checklist at www.cdc.gov/injury. (Click on “Home and Recreational Safety” and select “Falls – Older Adults.”) There are plenty of easy and inexpensive ways to make the home safer for older adults.

It doesn’t take long to screw in a light bulb or tighten a bolt on a stairway railing, and it can go a long way toward reducing the risk of injury to a loved one.

For more information about preventing falls in older adults, visit the National Council on Aging website at http://www.ncoa.org. For more information in Pittsburg County, call 918-423-4120 or log onto www.oces.okstate.edu/pittsburg.

LaDell Emmons is the Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for the Pittsburg County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at ladell.emmons@okstate.edu.

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