As adults get older, the likelihood of falling—and sustaining serious injuries because of the fall—increases dramatically. Each year, 2.5 million seniors nationwide are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries; one of five falls results in a serious injury such as a head injury or hip fracture. Falls are the leading cause of death from injury, as well as the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for those 65 or older. Over 250,000 seniors are hospitalized annually for hip fractures, with most fractures caused by falling.
Once a senior has fallen, it’s often hard for them to resume day-to-day activities such as climbing steps, walking around and driving. Along with the more major injuries, there are often broken arms or ankles that need to heal. There is often a heightened fear of falling again, whether at home or while away from home (shopping, working, eating out, vacation, etc.) which may lead seniors to limit activities and become weaker and withdrawn. Unfortunately those who have fallen once are 2-3 more times likely to fall again.
Often, falls are not reported to healthcare or medical assistance providers. The Fort Worth Fire Department (FWFD) received more than 3,500 calls last year from people who had fallen in their homes. But many did not want or need medical assistance…just help getting up off the floor. Information flyers on fall prevention are regularly left with fall victims when paramedics arrive, and direct referrals are made by FWFD and MedStar to the Area Agency on Aging to stay in close touch with those who have fallen.
Preventing falls is critical for seniors, who are increasingly realizing the importance of resources and classes on the subject. A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns about Falls, is a very effective program to help reduce the fear of falling in seniors, prevent falls and increase strength and balance. Offered by Texas Health Resources and United Way of Tarrant County’s Area Agency on Aging, it involves eight 2-hour sessions. These free classes aim to prevent falls, increase confidence, and educate seniors on what to do if they fall. To find the nearest class, call 1-877-847-9355 or visit www.texashealth.org/classes.
Through the efforts of the Fort Worth Safe Communities Coalition, a regular Falls/balance screening program—in conjunction with the Faith Community Nurses and Area Agency on Aging —is often offered at health fairs in the community. Home assessment, vision and medication screenings are planned for senior centers and churches located in areas where the most senior falls have been reported. Last September, a Fall Prevention Awareness Week in Tarrant County was held, which included a Sundance Square performance from the Steppin’ Grannies of Fort Worth, a hip-hop line dance ensemble of seniors who encouraged other seniors to take precautions to avoid falling.
Here are some ways to help minimize the risk of falling at home:
• Clean up any spills right after they happen, and avoid walking on wet surfaces such as in the rain or on ice.
• Make sure there are railings on both sides of all staircases, as well as in showers/tubs and next to the toilet. Slip-resistant adhesive strips should be installed on each step.
• Ensure that all indoor/outdoor areas are well-lit, and that nightlights are turned on in hallways, bathrooms and kitchens. Check to make sure light bulbs are brighter if needed.
• Eliminate anything that can be tripped over.
• Keep essential items like food and clothing within easy reach, so there is no need to use a stepstool.
• Avoid throw rugs or any obstacles that are not well secured to floors.
Other precautions to prevent falls:
• Talk to your physician to evaluate the risk of falling.
• Make sure there are no medicine interactions that might cause dizziness or sleepiness, which could contribute to falling or weakness.
• Do regular exercises to improve leg strength and balance.
• Take vitamin D supplements with calcium, which can help keep bones strong.
• Have vision checked at least once a year to be sure things do not appear closer or farther than they really are.
Home Care Assistance of Fort Worth is ready to help ensure your senior’s home and lifestyle will minimize the risk of falls.