COLUMN: Fall prevention for older adults

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By Diana Leathers

 Taking a fall can be scary at any age, but for senior adults a fall can lead to serious and sometimes devastating consequences. Falls are the leading cause of death from unintentional injuries among older adults and the leading cause of traumatic brain injury among Kentucky residents age 65 and older.  

According to the Center for Disease Control, the death rates from falls among older men and women have risen sharply over the past decade.

In 2013, Kentucky seniors had 35,000 hospital visits for fall-related injuries. The medical costs associated with falls are substantial. In Kentucky, inpatient hospital charges related to falls, for residents age 65 and older, increased 234 percent between 2003 and 2013.  

Contrary to popular belief, falling is not an inevitable part of aging. Many factors contribute to an increased risk of falling, such as, balance problems, weak muscles due to inactivity, medication side effects, osteoporosis (a disease that causes bones to become thin, weak, and more likely to break), vision changes, and home hazards.

The following tips can help you prevent a fall at home:

Check all floors:

• Remove any throw rugs that do not have a non-slip backing 

• Use double-sided tape on the under surface of raised carpet edges

• Keep cords next to the wall so you can’t trip over them

• Pick up clutter from the floor and move furniture away from your path (ask a friend or family member to help you move these) 

Check stairs and steps:

• Fix any loose or uneven steps on the stairs 

• Make sure handrails are secure

• Have a friend or family member replace overhead light bulbs that have burned out to make stairs easier to see

Check the kitchen:

• Arrange items in cabinets so things you use often are on lower shelves (about waist level) 

• If you use a step stool, get one with a bar to hold on to. Never use a chair as a step stool

Check all bathrooms:

• If the tub or shower floor is slippery, put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick strips on the floor

• If you have trouble getting in or out of the tub or up from the toilet, have a carpenter install grab bars in those areas

Check all bedrooms:

• Place a lamp close to the bed where it is easy to reach

• Put a night light in so you can see the path to the bathroom during the night

Other tips to help prevent falls: 

• Exercise regularly. This makes you stronger and improves balance and coordination. (Check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program)

• Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables 

• Talk to your healthcare provider about getting screened for osteoporosis

• Use the toilet on a regular basis to prevent rushing 

• Have your doctor or pharmacist look at your medications. Some medicines can make you sleepy or dizzy

• Get your vision checked at least once a year by an eye doctor

• Get up slowly after you sit or lie down

• Wear shoes both inside and outside the house. Avoid going barefoot or wearing slippers

• Improve the lighting in your home. Put in brighter florescent bulbs.

• Add lighting to dark areas

Sept. 23 is National Fall Prevention Awareness Day. Visit www.nofalls.org to learn more about fall prevention and how to get up safely from a fall.

For more information about osteoporosis, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation at www.nof.org/learn.