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January 16, 2013

Falls Can be Prevented

Icy sidewalks are not the only obstacle that can cause slips and falls. Most happen in the home and when you least expect to fall.

Icy sidewalks are not the only obstacle that can cause slips and falls. Most happen in the home and when you least expect to fall.

Falls are the number one cause of hospital admissions for injuries in older adults. Each year, up to a third of adults over the age of 65 living at home experience a fall, and almost two-thirds of older adults who have a fall will have another fall within a year. Falls can cause serious injuries in older adults, leading to hospitalization, nursing home admission, and even death.

The risk of falling increases as adults get older and have more health problems like arthritis, heart disease, muscle weakness, poor balance or vision, foot problems, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. Certain medications can also increase the risk of falls.

Learn how to prevent falls to maintain health, safety, independence and quality of life. Talk to your doctor about risk factors for falls. Also remove dangerous things around the home like throw rugs and poor lighting and install assistance aids like handrails.

Visit your doctor for a falls evaluation, which will include a check of your balance, leg strength and function, your blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm; examine the way you walk; and test your vision. They may recommend certain exercises, physical therapy, balance training, a cane or walker, a change in the kind of shoes you wear or in your eyeglasses prescription, and review your medications to lower your risk of falls.

Here are tips to make your home safe from falls:

· Keep cords away from areas where you walk

· Remove loose carpets and rugs or tack down the carpets and only use rugs with nonskid backing

· Add lights in dimly lit areas and at the top and bottom of stairs

· Use nightlights in bedrooms, halls and bathrooms

· Clean up clutter – especially near staircases

· Put hand rails on both sides of any steps or stairs in or outside of your home

· Add “grab bars” near the toilet and bath tub, and no slip decals or a rubber mat in the tub or shower

· Wear firm shoes that are not slippery on the bottom

· Don’t walk around in loose slippers or socks

If you fall, seek immediate attention, especially if you have a major blow to the head, any loss of consciousness, or of any sign of confusion after falling. Even if you have no injury, make an appointment with your healthcare provider, to discuss the fall, review your risks for falling, and help prevent another fall.

By Ellen Wenberg, MD, assistant medical director, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca.