Preventing Falls

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2008 17:02

By Cynthia Stratton

Five feet up on a ladder washing the windows of her Jamestown-area home, Ellen Croom knew the instant she lost her footing that the outcome wouldn’t be good.

Landing on her side on the hard concrete below, Ellen found herself in agonizing pain and unable to walk. Admitting to “not thinking straight,” she did not call for help, fearing what would happen to her beloved pets – her dachshund Tinker and cat Katie – if she was hospitalized and they had no one to care for them.

After three days of “crawling around,” Ellen finally called a neighbor and the next day underwent hip replacement surgery. “I think I’m indestructible,” said the retired UC Berkeley manager, now 82, “that I can handle just about anything – and I found out I couldn’t.”

In a sense, Ellen was lucky. Falls are the primary cause of accidental death in people over the age of 65, according to the International Fall Prevention Institute, and the leading cause of injury-related emergency room visits.

The estimated cost of falling is $20.2 billion annually for the treatment of fall-related injuries – most for the treatment of hip fractures, averaging $35,000 per patient.

Another toll is the “vicious circle” many experience, created by a fear of falling again.

Knowing this, the Area 12 Agency on Aging periodically offers a class called “Fallproof” ; call Area 12’s Shana Jiminez, (209) 532-6272, for information.

The course draws from a workbook called “Fall Prevention – Stay on Your Own Two Feet!” Authors Gail Davies and Fran Scully, physical therapists who specialize in working with seniors, note that fear of falling leads to inactivity, which leads to weakness, and so on. They offer tips on easing those fears, and on preventing falls from happening in the first place. Their top tip: Exercise. Benefits include improved posture, balance, and strength – all necessary to prevent the physical weakness that contributes to falling.

Along with starting a simple exercise program (after obtaining a doctor’s approval), the therapists suggest reviewing the following:

  • Vision – have a checkup with an optometrist/ophthalmologist
  • Medications used – consider side effects (dizziness, for example) and interactions with other medications
  • Alcohol usage – either by itself or in combination with prescribed drugs
  • Clothing – too-long hemlines of dresses, robes, and pant legs, and how well shoes fit
  • Pets – scampering underfoot, toys scattered on floor, cat curled up on steps
  • Doctor relationship – is there good communication on both sides, do you feel comfortable, and can you freely discuss all of your concerns?

Seniority Lifecare at Home, a Sonora-based business providing in-home caregiving and care coordination for seniors, offers a fall-prevention presentation free to any interested group; call 532-4500 for information.

“We hope to bring awareness of the need for seniors to be careful around the home,” says Seniority’s Patty Penwell, “since the majority of falls do take place there.”

Penwell also offers free in-home “safety tours” to seniors, to assess potential fall hazards and offer safety tips. Common hazards include loose throw rugs, poor lighting, electrical cords in walkways and lack of bathroom grab bars. One of her top tips: place frequently used household items within reach, as stretching and leaning to grab something increases the risk of falling.

So do ladders, which Ellen Croom, for one, now avoids. Determined to remain independent, she has made a full recovery and is grateful to have resumed her active lifestyle – days filled with volunteer work, visiting with friends, and of course, time spent enjoying Tinker and Katie.

© 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2008 17:02
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