The Trip You’d Rather Not Take: Preventing Falls

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins June 15, 2009 10:25

Falling is worth thinking about. It’s the leading cause of injury deaths among older adults, and the most common cause of injury and hospital trauma admission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than a third of adults 65 or older fall each year in the U.S.

But there’s another troublesome consequence. Falling often kicks off a vicious cycle of worry and fear – about falling again.

“Fear is a huge issue,” says Shana Jiminez, a certified fitness teacher with the Sonora-based Area 12 Agency on Aging. “Once someone has fallen and hurt themselves, they stop doing things that help maintain their strength, which makes them more prone to falling in the future.”

Building strength and flexibility and being aware of your surroundings and movements are keys to staying on your feet and safe, Jiminez says. In teaching fall prevention, she emphasizes awareness: of your physical abilities and limits, your center of gravity, your surroundings, and uneven terrain or clutter underfoot.

Those with certain disabilities may be more prone to falls, but anyone can strengthen other body systems – such as vision, sense of touch, and balance, for example – to compensate. Practicing different walking patterns and stances in a safe setting can also help.

The best way to prevent falls or recuperate more quickly after falling is to increase your body strength by exercising, Jiminez says. It’s also important to eliminate tripping hazards around your home. She offers these tips:

  • Build your leg, arm and abdominal muscles. This will help you to avoid a dangerous fall, or help you to recover more quickly if you do hit the ground. Consider taking a fitness class that offers resistance training with flexible bands, for example, or other equipment.
  • Flexibility exercises can help build good range of motion, which allows you to maneuver more quickly, Jiminez says. Do stretching exercises that focus on the hips, knees and ankles.
  • Get down on the floor and back up again (but don’t do this alone, in case you need help).  Practicing getting up off the floor will create “muscle memory” that will help in case of a fall, and may also ease your fear of being hurt and stranded. It’s possible to do this hands-only if you have knee pain, Jiminez says.
  • Size up and correct potential hazards, such as dim lighting, floor rugs and clutter; and uneven or slick surfaces.

Contact Area 12 at 532-6272, for future class times and locations.

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins June 15, 2009 10:25
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