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Falls prevention: Tips to protect yourself

September is the time of year when many health and aging professionals focus on falls prevention. It’s an apt time since September is the month when we usher in the fall season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says falls are a leading cause of injury among people aged 65 and older. More than one in four adults will experience injury due to a fall in any given year.

In North Dakota, winter is a particularly hazardous time of year for falls due to snow and ice. But they can happen most any time, according to Jessica Fossen, DPT, a physical therapist in Trinity Health’s Outpatient Physical Therapy Center.

“We get them year around,” Fossen said. “Tripping over a rug, taking a misstep, or catching a foot on something are common causes. With older individuals, getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night can be hazardous, especially without proper lighting. People who normally use a walker don’t bother to do so in that circumstance because it’s just a short distance. That’s when they fall.”

Falls are serious, the CDC reports. One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as a broken bone or a head injury. Each year, 3 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. In addition, more than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.

Falls are also costly. In 2015, the total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.

Another important point about falls, according to the CDC, is that falling just one time doubles your chances of falling again – something that Fossen sees in her practice. “Every time you fall, you spiral a little deeper into a fear of falling,” she said. “You tend to not move around as much and you become more sedentary, which leads to further weakness, which leads to an even greater risk of falling.”

Fossen’s message to patients is – don’t give in to the fear. There are strategies that can help prevent falls.

“The sorts of things I go over with my patients are things like tripping hazards, rugs, cords, hand rails on steps, grab bars and nonslip mats in bathtubs and showers, and modifying lighting in dark areas. Another suggestion I give to patients is to put a little touch light on their walker so when they get up at night they have a light source handy.”

Fossen regularly joins other professionals as an instructor for “Stepping On,” a program that offers older people information, strategies, and exercises to reduce falls and increase self-confidence in situations where they are at risk of falling. Provided through North Dakota State University’s network of County Extension Services, the program is comprehensive, targeting every component of falls prevention, including medication management, vision, home hazards, safe footwear, and community safety.

“My role is teaching exercises that are most beneficial to boost strength and improve balance,” Fossen said. “The thing to remember is that falls don’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. The biggest risk is the fear. If you’ve had one fall you don’t have to accept that you’ll fall again.”

For more information about falls prevention call Trinity Health Outpatient Physical Therapy at 701-857-5286. For information about Stepping On, contact Ward County Extension at 857-6444.

Falls

Prevention

Tips

Check your home:

–Remove area rugs or secure them to the floor.

–Remove tripping hazards, such as clutter, cords, and furniture.

–Watch for changes in thresholds or flooring height.

–Keep living areas well lit.

–Use stairway handrails.

–In the bathroom: install grab bars in the tub or shower and toilet areas; use a non-slip bathmat; and install a raised toilet seat.

Check your outdoor surroundings:

–Use extra care when walking on ice or snow.

–Watch for changes in your surroundings, such as a hill or incline, or perhaps stairs.

–Give your eyes time to adjust to the sun.

Other things can be done to prevent falls:

–Get an annual eye exam.

–Wear shoes with nonskid soles and low heels.

–Do not walk in slippers or socks.

–Use a mobility aid – such as a cane or walker – as needed.

–Avoid distractions when walking.

–Use extra care when walking on ice or snow.

–Avoid alcohol and drugs.

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