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Preventing Falls in Seniors

Posted September 12, 2012 in Advice Column, Des Moines West, Downtown

I’ve fallen… and I can’t get up! You might remember that famous line from a campy 1990s TV commercial. But it’s more than just a memorable catchphrase; it represents a serious health problem for older adults.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among adults 65 and older. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, more than one-third of older adults fall each year. Advancing age and declining functional abilities are often blamed, but the majority of falls are due to preventable factors.

Dangers in the home
Environmental factors play a part in about half of all falls in the home. From tripping over a cord or rug to slipping on a slick bathroom floor, in-home falls are common, yet avoidable.

“Sometimes adaptations need to be made in the home environment,” says Kathy Mercuris, P.T., D.H.S., associate professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Des Moines University. “Improved lighting, non-slip mats and grab bars in the bathroom and handrails on the stairs are a few effective prevention strategies.”

Effects of poor health
Health plays an important role in fall prevention. Diminished physical fitness, muscle weakness, vision loss and chronic conditions are all contributors to falls in seniors. Balance issues can be due to medical issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure or the side effects of medications. A visit to a physical therapist or your family physician can help identify and reduce your personal risk factors.

“Falls are multifactorial. A proper assessment will figure out if the problem is due to strength, flexibility, vestibular or other issues,” explains Mercuris. “Once we conduct an examination, we can design a treatment program individualized for the patient.”

Benefits of physical activity
Exercise, whether through group classes or in-home programs, is one of the most successful strategies in fall prevention. Range of motion exercises, stretching, strength training and balance activities are especially effective. Mercuris often recommends adding Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art, to the fitness routine because it combines balance control and flexibility with a bit of strengthening.

Seniors who have one fall are more likely to have another. If you’ve had a fall or near-fall, consult with a health professional. Identifying the factors that lead to falls, whether environmental or personal, will help keep you on your feet.

Information provided by Des Moines University Clinic, 3200 Grand Ave., 271-1700.

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