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The Dangerous Health Risk Many Seniors Overlook

What is the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, more common than strokes but potentially just as serious, responsible for 90% of broken hips in people age 70 and older and the number one preventable cause of nursing home placement? The answer, which may surprise you, is falls.

Most people don’t think they’re at risk and yet falls are the number one cause of accidental injury for Connecticut residents age 55 and older.

Risk factors include: a sedentary lifestyle; difficulties with balance or walking, becoming lightheaded and dizzy when standing up quickly; sensory problems such as decreased vision, hearing, or sense of feeling in the feet; problems with cognitive thinking; being on four or more medications on a regular basis; and environmental factors such as inappropriate footwear, trip hazards or incorrect use of an assistive device like a cane or walker.

If you have any of these conditions you’re at higher risk for falling – and with each additional risk factor, the likelihood of falling increases.

The key to preventing these kinds of outcomes is to evaluate and address your risk before a fall occurs. Effective risk management may require a combination of changes to environment, exercise and sometimes physical therapy.

Most falls happen at home, so an excellent first step is to address environmental risks there. A few of the most important measures you can take are to ensure adequate lighting, install safety devices like handrails on stairs and grab bars in the bathroom, and create smooth and wide walking paths by eliminating tripping hazards like clutter, electrical cords, throw rugs and uneven thresholds.

Go slowly when moving from lying down to sitting up or from sitting to standing. If you’re taking four or more medications, review them with your doctor to see if any can be stopped, reduced or switched to something safer for older adults to reduce your risk of falling. Gentle exercise like stretching and tai chi, done on a regular basis, can promote strength and balance.

The most important thing to do if you feel unsteady or you have any of the risk factors for falling is to talk to your doctor. He or she can provide a referral for a falls risk assessment and home safety evaluation by a medical homecare provider, who can then help to ensure you’re doing all you can to prevent a fall and the serious consequences it can have on your health and lifestyle.

Linda Ring, MSPT, is Rehabilitation Supervisor for Day Kimball HomeCare, which provides in-home medical care to residents throughout northeast Connecticut.

Related Resources

Integrated Care: In-Home Care
In-Home Care: Day Kimball HomeCare 

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