We all tend to think we’re invincible – especially when we’re young.
As we age, however, we slowly realize the fact that our bodies just can’t do the things they used to do.
That includes maintaining balance and moving very quickly and these are some of the reasons falls are one of the leading causes of injuries in older Americans.
According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone 65 years of age of older in this country falls every second of every day. Fall injuries are treated at the emergency room every 13 seconds and claim a life every 20 minutes.
The good news is falls are preventable and you can do something about it for you and your loved ones.
Falls usually don’t just happen and people don’t fall just because they get older. Often there are underlying causes and risk factors such as medications, health conditions or environment, which can greatly increase the chance of a fall.
It’s not just the sheer number of falls among older Americans that’s concerning but also the impact.
“We estimate that about half the folks who end up with a hip fracture end up losing their independence,” said Patti Mounts, a registered nurse and the Health & Wellness Coordinator with Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging.”So it is a big concern. One thing we do try to make sure we point out though is that falls are not inevitable as we age. There are lots of ways to reduce the risk of falls whether it’s personal behavior, something in the environment or talking with a doctor about medication side effects.”
Why do falls hurt us more when we’re older?
Bones can become brittle because of conditions such as osteoporosis and we also lose muscle mass as we age. That muscle mass keeps us strong and helps us keep our balance.
Mounts said changes in balance and also changes in vision can lead to falls.
“And people hurry more because by the time they hear the phone, they’re concerned, someone is hanging up so they scurry,” she said. “And when we hurry, you are more likely to fall.”
The fear of falling often causes people to restrict activities, but Mounts said that’s not always the answer, as remaining stationary or staying home can make a person more sedentary and lead to more muscle weakening.
Plus, she added, it can lead to someone feeling socially isolated.
So what’s the right approach?
Some helpful tips on preventing falls can be learned Oct. 16 at a free Healthy Steps for Older Adults workshop hosted by Citizens Library at 55 South College Street in Washington.
The free workshop is sponsored by Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging’s Health & Wellness program and will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“One of the goals is to provide education and empowerment so that folks become more aware and more active in minimizing the risk of falls,” Mounts said. “Sometimes it’s simple behaviors like putting on your slippers, turning on a light, taking your time, doing exercises to increase your lower extremity strength. Things like that will actually decrease the risk for falls.”
The program is free for adults age 60 or older who live in Washington, Greene and Fayette counties and will cover a variety of topics including home safety modifications, safe footwear, nutrition for bone health, exercise, medication management and communicating with your doctor.
Mounts said one of the first topics she’ll cover is home environment.
“Sometimes it’s a light switch or moving a chair out of the way, taking the coffee table out of the living room,” she said. “Sometimes there are very simple environmental things we can do, taking your time, not hurrying, things like that. We look at things like medication, nutrition and healthy eating. We have a topic about talking with your doctor about medicine, vision and pain.”
Mounts will also cover the importance of having a fall action plan.
“Nobody wants to fall,” she said, “but then what? How long until somebody finds me? Will they have a way in? Do they know the medicines I’m on? So older adults should have some sort of system in place.”
This could include something as simple as checking in with relatives or a friend twice a day so they know you’re OK or turning the porch light on or off or raising a window blind to signal to a neighbor that you’re safe.
The workshop will also include fall screening activities and a risk assessment.
“We talk with each participant individually about their own risk profile and they fill out a questionnaire that includes questions about medications because, statistically, being on four or more medications increases your risk profile,” Mounts said.
Attendees will also learn some strengthening and balance exercises and discuss topics ranging from foot care to stress and depression.
The program is free, but space is limited and pre-registering is required.
For more information on attending the workshop, call Mounts at 724-228-7080.