Safety for Seniors
On Oct. 19, Senior Services of Alexandria will host sessions on Safety for Seniors — Home Tips, Fall Prevention, Scams & Prescriptions to be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church. www.seniorservicesalex.org.
Preventing falls has been, continues to be, and likely always will be so very important.
“Stats show us that one-in-four older adults over the age of 65 fall every year,” according to Sara Pappa, Coordinator for the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance and assistant professor at Marymount University’s College of Health and Education. “Those are the falls we know about. Obviously, not all falls get reported.”
Between 850,000 to 950,000 hospitalizations occur every year due to falls for this age group. Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related deaths for people over age 65. Fifty billion dollars, yes, billion with a “b” is spent annually on falls.
We all have been told to make sure our loved ones (or we) do NOT fall. It is a simple statement to make, “Don’t fall!”
“It is wise advice,” continues Pappa. “And though we cannot control everything, there are measures we can take to help prevent falls.”
Simple but important measures that many of us have heard, include holding on to bathroom grab bars and stairway handrails, getting rid of or securing throw rugs, making sure we have adequate lighting and even when indoors, wear shoes with adequate grips on soles.
Of course, preventing falls when we are outdoors is also extremely important. If the fall occurs on asphalt or concrete, our injury could possibly be more severe than an indoor fall. While we know falls can be unpredictable and sudden, the consequences are familiar: Recently, a friend fell on wet grass while taking garbage cans out. Outcome: Broken finger.
Another friend’s mother fell several months ago while she was outside on her routine walk. Outcome: Several rehabilitation sessions.
But consider this from the New York Times, July 18, 2001: “Katharine Graham, who transformed The Washington Post from a mediocre newspaper into an American institution and, in the process, transformed herself from a shy widow into a publishing legend, died yesterday after suffering head injuries in a fall on a sidewalk on Saturday in Idaho. She was 84.” Graham was healthy and active.
While circumstances of a fall vary, staying alert and aware are key mindsets. For example, simple as it seems, we need to pay attention as we approach and then step down from the curb to cross the street. Also, we should watch out for dips in the road or cracks in the sidewalk that could cause a trip, stumble and then yes, a fall.
There are medical and clinical considerations as well that might not be quite as familiar to us. The Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance recommends these five steps:
* Getting an annual medication review by a healthcare provider or pharmacist is crucial. Be knowledgeable of new medications and any changes in dosage. Have a professional check prescriptions to ensure there is not an interaction that can create an increased risk of a fall.
* Get vision and hearing checked annually. All our senses contribute to our sense of balance and safety. If our vision is poor, we are more likely to trip over something. And hearing loss could mean we miss something coming from behind or in our periphery, where we might not move in time to get out of the way.
* A gait and balance assessment can be done by a health care provider or a physical therapist. There are also some materials on the Centers for Disease Control website that will help us conduct our own brief falls risk assessment and determine if we are physically susceptible to increased risk of falling.
* A home safety check can be conducted by private or non-profit companies or professionals like an occupational therapist. Also, organizations like AARP and the CDC have materials that can be used for self-assessments. These assessments explain how we can go room-by-room to check for possible hazards or situations that are not ideal. A few things included in these assessments suggest looking for any electrical cord that cuts across a room. Couch-chair-coffee table arrangements could put us at risk for a fall if there is not adequate space between the furniture pieces. If there is a threshold difference between two rooms where one is just a little taller than the other, consider a change or repair. Hallways and stairways need sufficient lighting and hand railings on both sides are good fall prevention features.
* Being physically fit and focusing on strength, balance and flexibility are important. Many organizations who work with older adults offer exercise and awareness programs that support our need for strength, balance and flexibility.
Through a federal grant administered by Marymount University, the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance offers these types of programs throughout our region. Localities served include Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Loudoun, Prince William and the District of Columbia. For example, A Matter of Balance and SAIL – Stay Active and Independent for Life classes are running, now. www.novafallsprevention.com
Additionally, on Oct. 19, Senior Services of Alexandria will host sessions on Safety for Seniors—Home Tips, Fall Prevention, Scams & Prescriptions to be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church. www.seniorservicesalex.org.
And please always bear in mind that you can check with your locality’s social services department or Area Agency on Aging for fall prevention and other programs for older adults.