Matter of balance
Providing education on safety, use of adaptive equipment
MARQUETTE — Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries for older adults — they result in over 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually and lead to more than 800,000 hospitalizations and over 27,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This makes prevention of falls a critical issue for older adults — falls can be reduced through lifestyle adjustments and adaptable fall-prevention education, according to the National Council on Aging.
To this aim, Brookridge Heights Assisted Living & Memory Care hosted an event at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday that was designed to educate older adults on ways they can avoid falls through proper use of adaptive equipment.
“We have a lot of partners in the community who are providing different senior services,” said Jennifer Huetter of Brookridge Heights Assisted Living & Memory Care. “And when they’re able to bring in these kind of educational things for us — especially today with our balance clinic, as obviously balance is a very big issue for our residents, keeping them safe in their apartments — it’s just really good education for our residents to be able to have that information, as well as our staff.”
Educational programs like this one are important to help people be aware of the resources that are available to assist with setting up walkers and other mobility concerns, organizers said.
“A lot of times, either residents or patients, they’ll get almost like a prescription from a doctor to get a walker and then they’ll pick it up themselves or they’ll have it delivered, so they, a lot of times, have to set it up themselves,” said Kaitlynn McDonald of UP Health System Home Care and Hospice. “So that’s where somebody clinical coming in to help out with the proper height and how to use it, how many wheels it should have, some of the basic stuff, can be covered by a therapist .”
Laura Jason, an occupational therapist with UPHS Home Health Care and Hospice spoke about and demonstrated techniques that can help older adults avoid falls.
A major topic during the presentation was walker safety and education — Huetter, Jason and McDonald emphasized that consistent use of walkers, canes, wheelchairs and other prescribed mobility aids is an important way for older adults to avoid falls.
“It’s very important that they’re using those devices all the time, so not just using them in the hallways as they’re going long distances, but using them in their apartments,” Huetter said. “That is a big concern for us, we want to make sure that they’re using the walker as a part of their body and using that to help them get from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ for balance and for safety.”
The presentation also emphasized the importance of using the appropriate walker with proper adjustments.
“The height of the walker really makes a difference,” Jason said. “If you’re standing up tall, you want to get it right where your wrist is to the top of the walker.”
The type of walker — two-wheeled or four-wheeled, is also an important consideration, Jason said, as a two-wheeled walker can be a “little safer for people have that don’t have great balance,” adding that those who use a four-wheeled walker “should have pretty good balance, just because they can get away real easy, they can slide away from you.”
“Two-wheeled walkers, they’re a little safer because the wheels don’t rotate,” Jason said. “So the front wheels on a four-wheeled walker, they rotate, they can go wherever you want really easy. The two wheeled walker, they’re stationary, the wheels don’t move, they just go straight or backward.”
Jason offered specific safety and use recommendations for users of both types of walkers.
“When you use a two-wheeled walker, try not to pick it up and go; a lot of people walk and pick it up with you, it exerts too much energy and you can lose your balance really easy,” Jason said. “If you have a two-wheeled walker, just push it forward, don’t lift it up, it will make it a lot more smooth.”
In the case of four-wheeled walkers, Jason emphasized the importance of brake use — and avoiding a practice she sees often: sitting on the seat of a four-wheeled walker while using feet to propel backwards.
This is a safety concern and never advisable, she said.
If a person feels they must take a seat on their four-wheel walker to regain their strength or prevent a fall, Jason said it’s critical to put the brakes on before taking a seat, and not move around on the walker while seated.
Jason also shared advice on a number of adaptive equipment options for those who may have limited mobility and balance, demonstrating how a number of different tools can be used.
Shoe horns, leg lifters, dressing sticks and sock aides can all make activities of daily living safer and easier for those who have limited mobility or balance, she said. These tools can be recommended by an occupational therapist and can be found locally, or online, Jason said.
Overall, Huetter, Jason and McDonald feel events such as this one offer benefits for all parties involved — community, Brookridge Heights staff and residents and health professionals — as it can give all parties an opportunity to connect, communicate and share resources.
Brookridge holds these events at 1:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month, Huetter said, noting interested parties can check Brookridge’s Facebook page for details on upcoming events.
Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.