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Fall safety

Officials spread word about National Falls Prevention Awareness Day

Seniors participate in a course that builds strength and balance at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. (U.S. Air Force photos/Ilka Cole)

MARQUETTE — While no one can stop the coming of the fall season each September, health officials are reminding the public this month to focus on a fall that can be prevented — your own.

Sept. 23, the first day of fall, is also National Falls Prevention Awareness Day, a day dedicated to spreading the word about ways individuals can reduce their risk of a fall.

This is particularly important for older adults, as around a third of adults 65 and older fall each year, with falls being the leading cause of death from injury in this demographic.

Locally, trauma admissions from ground-level falls represented 40% of all trauma admissions over the course of a year at UP Health System-Marquette, with 80% of the individuals suffering trauma from ground-level falls being over age 60, Gary Gustafson, a registered nurse and paramedic at UP Health System, told The Mining Journal previously.

But gaining the tools to prevent a fall can help individuals, especially older adults, reduce their risks for falling and adverse health consequences.

Due to this, National Council on Aging has a number of recommendations for those looking to reduce their fall risk.

The tips include talking to a health care provider and receiving an assessment for fall risk, as well as reporting any fall history; regularly reviewing medications with a doctor or pharmacist to ensure the side effects aren’t increasing the risk of a fall; getting vision and hearing checked annually; keeping the home environment safe by removing tripping hazards, increasing lighting and installing grab bars; talking to family members to get their support in fall prevention measures; and finding a program to help with balance and exercise, according to the NCOA.

For those seeking balance and exercise programming, courses entitled A Matter of Balance for Fall Prevention are offered throughout the Upper Peninsula to teach attendees “ways to reduce falls and increase their physical strength so they can continue to stay safe and independent,” Michigan State University Extension Falls Prevention Program Instructor/Coordinator Carlee Wasik said in an email.

“Class participants will view falls as controllable, set goals for increasing activity, make changes to reduce fall risks at home, and exercise to increase strength and balance,” she said.

The classes, which are offered through Michigan State University Extension, are evidence-based courses that are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They have may outcomes such as increasing strength and balance, changing environments to reduce fall risk factors, and viewing falls and the fear of falling as controllable,” Wasik said.

It’s important to offer these courses and for participants to learn these skills, she said, as “falls, with or without injury, also carry a heavy quality of life impact.”

“A growing number of older adults fear falling and, as a result, limit their activities and social engagements. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness,” she said. “According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 older adults reported a fall in 2014 and falls are the number one cause of hip fractures.”

The course is recommended for anyone who is concerned about falls and/or has fallen in the past, anyone who has restricted their activities because of falling concerns and anyone who is interested in improving balance, flexibility and strength, Wasik said.

“A Matter of Balance has many program components such as problem solving, skill building, assertiveness training, exercise training, and cognitive restructuring which is a great way to change our fear of falling to more confidence building,” she said. “Participants are also encouraged to do a home safety checklist and scan their home environments to reduce any fall risks.”

Another program offered is Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention. In this course,

“participants learn weight transfers during exercise which improve balance, flexibility, strength, mobility and psychological health,” Wasik said.

“Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention is a gentle exercise combining slow movement, deep breathing and focused intention,” she said. “Tai Chi has many benefits and participants will increase their strength, balance and posture, prevent falls, improve body, mind and spirit, and reduce stress and increase relaxation.”

With Falls Prevention Awareness Day coming up September 23, Wasik said it’s a great opportunity for organizations to raise awareness about falls prevention” and the resources available.

Both falls prevention programs are evidence-based and created for participants to learn new techniques through each session. It is recommended that participants join as many sessions as possible from the beginning.

Programs are offered across the Upper Peninsula at many different locations, those who are interested in joining a class or learning more about falls prevention can call Wasik at 906-315-2664 or email her at wasikcar@msu.edu.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.