Avoiding a fall
Prevention tips, statistics shared for seniors
By CECILIA BROWN
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — Falls are the leading cause of death from injury in those 65 and older, with around a third of people 65 and older falling each year. Furthermore, around 9,500 deaths annually of older Americans are associated with falls; by age 80, more than half of seniors fall each year.
“I think the numbers really reflect where we’re at with this, because they don’t change from year to year to year,” said Gary Gustafson, a registered nurse and paramedic at UP Health System “We’re just not making headway in trying to reduce what that percentage is of fall injuries for seniors.”
For this reason, Gustafson provided a fall prevention education session put on by UP Health System Home Health and Hospice at the Negaunee Senior Center April 4.
Gustafson, who has spent years working in emergency medical services, risk prevention, and the emergency department, shared his personal knowledge of fall prevention and the consequences of falls with attendees.
“Forty percent of all of the trauma that we saw (at UP Health System – Marquette) that in that one year was from ground level falls,” Gustafson said. “Eighty percent of those were people over 60.”
Because falls can sometimes result in traumatic brain injuries and bone fractures, Gustafson emphasized that it’s important to seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you know falls.
“Any time you fall at all if there’s any kind of loss of consciousness or whatever, let somebody know. And don’t ever hesitate going to the emergency room to get checked,” he said. “I know people who have done that and by the time they get there, sometimes it’s too late. If they would have got there sooner, they could have gone to the (operating room). But if you wait, then it’s too late. So don’t ever hesitate to go to the ER and get checked out.”
Conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, previous strokes, arthritis, vertigo, osteoporosis, diabetes, high or low blood pressure, can all put someone at a risk for falling, Gustafson said.
This makes it particularly important for people with these conditions to take precautions to modify their risk.
One simple, but significant preventative measure is to be mindful of any dizziness before getting up, he said.
“We always say if you have any inclination of having dizziness when getting up, when you get out of bed in the morning, just sit up in the bed for a while before you actually get up,” Gustafson said. “Or when you get out of a chair, just get up slowly, don’t just pop up.”
For those who have issues with mobility and balance, it’s important to use assistive devices — such as canes, walkers or wheelchairs — if they’re needed, Gustafson said. Furthermore, engaging in exercise, such as tai chi, can help a person regain flexibility, mobility, and balance.
Because improper footwear can also lead to falls, it’s important to wear correctly fitting shoes that are not too loose or too tight, Gustafson said, and heel heights of one inch or less are typically safest.
Other preventative measures include making modifications in the home, he said. Gustafson emphasized that carpets and rugs can be dangerous, even when secured to the floor, as there’s still a ridge at the edge of the rug that can pose a tripping hazard.
Making sure there’s proper lighting — and easy access to light switches — throughout the home is also helpful, he said, as clearly lit areas can reduce the risk of tripping or falling on an unseen object.
Extension cords, lamp cords, phone cords, and tubing can also pose a tripping hazard, making it important to minimize the presence of cords in the walkways, he said.
Bathrooms also present many opportunities for individuals to slip and fall, he said, noting that shower bars, shower chairs, grips for the bottom of the tub, and toilet seat risers can all be helpful preventative measures.
“If you have dizziness or any issues with your hips at all, I tell you what, they make a big difference,” he said. “If its easier and it makes things better for you, use them, that’s what they’re there for.”
In the kitchen, Gustafson recommends using long-handled utensils and keeping frequently-used items easily accessible “so you’re not reaching,” he said.
When walking around the house, he said it’s important to avoid just walking in socks or slippers without grips, as these can be slippery, especially on wooden, tile or linoleum floors.
Adding reflective tape to the top and bottom of stairs, ledges or other places in the home with a height change can also help users have a reference point and avoid falling. Staircases should also have two railings, one on each side, he said.
Overall, Gustafson emphasized that making modifications in the home; knowing your limits; getting regular exercise; reviewing medications for potential interactions that could increase fall risk and making sure to seek medical help immediately if a fall does occur are all key in reducing falls, as well as resulting complications and mortality.