By Laura Rodi
September is National Falls Prevention Month with Sept. 23 being Falls Prevention Awareness Day.
In honor of the coming month, let’s take a moment to review the impact that falling has on our lives and the steps we can take to help prevent them as we age. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older adults. They are not, however, a normal part of aging.
Falls result in more than 3 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 850,000 hospitalizations and more than 29,000 deaths. Falls, with or without injury, can understandably impact the quality of life.
As people age, they begin to experience a fear of falling, which can significantly limit their daily activities and socialization. Not only will their physical condition decline, but studies have shown that this also leads to an increase in depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness.
Studies have shown there are steps you can take to reduce your fall risk. They include:
• Get a fall risk assessment from your doctor.
• Review your medications at least once a year with your doctor and/or pharmacist.
• Have your vision and hearing checked at least annually.
• Engage in regular physical activity.
• Assess your home for safety.
It is important to have a conversation with your health care provider about your falls history and ask your doctor to perform a falls risk assessment to determine strategies to improve your balance. This assessment should include a review of your medications. Bring your entire medication list with you (including meds prescribed by other physicians) along with any over the counter medicine, vitamins and supplements.
According to research, taking four or more medications can increase your risk for a fall. Review your medications, so you understand what you are taking and why. Be honest with your health provider. Your care depends on it.
Just as we should get a routine physical every year, we as aging adults should also have our vision checked at least once a year by an eye doctor and our hearing tested by an audiologist.
It is important for your balance that your vision is tested and corrected as needed. Hearing loss does not directly cause balance problems, but a yearly hearing exam by a skilled audiologist may identify inner ear issues or vestibular disorders that may affect your balance.
A routine fitness program is essential as we age for so many reasons. Doing strength and balance exercises can build your muscle mass, improve your balance and coordination, and reduce your risk of falling.
There are evidence based programs available that can help address this issue like A Matter of Balance, Tai Chi for Arthritis and the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program. All of these programs and more are available at The Jackson County Senior Center. For more information about these and other programs available to older adults, call 586-5494.
Home safety modifications can make activities more manageable, improve your health and wellness and reduce your chances of falling. Many important changes you can make to improve your fall risk include: keeping pathways clear, be aware of uneven surfaces, improved lighting, installing handrails and grab bars and reducing clutter.
Uneven surfaces exist throughout the home. Throw rugs are one example. Throw rugs can get worn, the edges roll up easily and can create a fall risk. Make sure the edges of your rugs are secure to the floor or better yet remove the hazard. Good lighting is important throughout the home, especially in darker places such as stairways.
Handrails can help and could be installed on both sides of the stairs for safety. Such measures could be useful in the bathroom as well.
As we approach the fall season, take a moment to assess your fall risk. Take measures to set yourself up for success and stay safe.
For more information on falls prevention, go to the National Council on Aging website at ncoa.org. For more information on local services and programs designed to keep the aging adult active, visit the Department on Aging website at www.aging.jacksonnc.org or call 586-5494.
Rodi is the health and wellness manager at the Department on Aging Senior Center. She received her B.S. in biology from Western Carolina University and leads fitness classes such as tai chi, strength training and yoga.