Join me in celebrating September – not only because it marks the fall season, but because it is Falls Prevention Awareness Month.
Do I really mean celebrate? Perhaps “observe” or “commemorate” would be more fitting to describe an entire month to raise awareness of falls prevention?
Yes, I do mean celebrate. Do you remember the excitement and energy in the air when you baby-proofed your home? There was no feeling of impending doom, only an affirmation of protection for the future and the security of our loved ones.
In Arizona, the fall season feels like a time of renewal and is the perfect time to renew our commitment to the safety of our aging seniors.
Falling is a serious public health problem among older adults. The risk of hurting oneself upon falling increases with age, as reflexes slow, diminishing a person’s ability to protect oneself. Bones are more brittle making older adults more susceptible to breaking a wrist or even a hip. Unlike illnesses and diseases taking lives among elderly people, falling is almost completely preventable.
In 2014, the number of deaths from trips and falls almost equaled the number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents. The fact is, many of these trips and falls are caused by preventable circumstances. Falls are the leading cause of death due to injury among seniors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elders have a one in three chance of experiencing a fall annually. Over 30,000 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries in 2013. Over 2.5 million seniors were treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
Factors that contribute to falls include improper eyewear, such as wearing sunglasses indoors or inadvertently keeping readers on when walking. Additionally, it’s important to remind our seniors about getting annual eye exams and updating their glasses if need be. Dizziness caused by medication can lead to falls. When filling prescriptions, make sure to ask the pharmacist whether the medicine can affect balance. And remember, “medication” not only includes prescription medicines, but also herbal, natural and over-the-counter remedies such as aspirin or antihistamines. Request a brown-bag check-up, which is when you gather all of your current medications and over-the-counter products into a brown bag and show them to your doctor or pharmacist so he or she can look for any potential problems.
Contrary to popular belief, falls are not a natural part of aging. All of us have the ability to reduce the risk of falls in our aging loved one’s homes and when hosting our seniors for a prolonged stay or even an afternoon visit. Common causes for falls include slippery or wet surfaces, poor lighting, uneven floor surfaces, clutter in pathways and thick-soled or loose shoes. Rugs are the leading causes of falls, and ideally should be removed. Most falls in the home occur when going up or down stairs and in and out of the tub or shower. It is imperative that stairways have handrails that extend beyond the first and last step. Increasing the light by adding more overhead lighting fixtures or wall sconces can prevent falls. If lamps are added, cord management is essential.
Here is a list of things you can buy for less than $20 that will lower your risk for a fall:
• Grab bars for shower or tub
• Mat for shower or tub
• Non-slip bathtub strips
• Velcro strips to secure electrical cords
• Non-slip safety grip pad for rugs
• Motion sensor night light
• Slip-resistant socks
• Non-slip tape (skid tape for stairs)
• Raised toilet seat
• Wheelchair seat belt
When hosting an aging loved one for an overnight or prolonged stay, you may need to ensure that your guest room is adaptable to your guest’s needs. Place night tables and shelves in accessible places. Offer to help unpack, and store clothing, medication and necessities within reach. Make sure the outside of your home is well-lit and there are no hazards blocking the entranceway to your home. Secure over-excited or anxious pets to prevent them from jumping or becoming a tripping hazard.
Celebrating Falls Prevention Awareness Month is an extension of embracing aging and accepting the new normal. Notching milestone birthdays is very much a privilege. If you don’t think so, just ask someone with a terminal illness. Aging gracefully is acknowledging that you may need a new sexy walker or a cool pair of non-slip shoes – so hold on to your new prop and whistle your favorite tune to symbolically represent the spring in your step.
Bob Roth is managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions, LLC. Visit cypresshomecare.com.