News, Physical Therapy PT

USAHS Faculty and Students Want to Help Prevent Falls Among Older Adults

Did you know that one third of community-dwelling older adults fall every year? According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people age 65 and up. They result in more than 3 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 850,000 hospitalizations and more than 29,000 deaths. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.

University of St. Augustine recently hosted this special community clinic:

 

WAYS YOU CAN HELP PROTECT YOUR OLDER LOVED ONES FROM FALLING
by Dr. Bonnie Rogulj

Did you know that one third of community-dwelling older adults fall every year? According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people age 65 and up. They result in more than 3 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 850,000 hospitalizations and more than 29,000 deaths. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) and University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences are encouraging you to participate in the 10th annual National Falls Prevention Awareness Day on September 22, 2018. This year’s theme, Take a Stand to Prevent Falls, seeks to unite professionals, older adults, caregivers, and family members to play a part in raising awareness and preventing falls.

The good news is that most falls can be prevented. The key is to know where to look. Here are six easy steps from NCOA that you can take to help your older loved one reduce their risk of falling:

Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Ask your older loved one if they’re concerned about falling. Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt—even if they’ve already fallen in the past or experience “near falls”. If they’re concerned about falling, dizziness, changes in walking or balance, and ability to perform daily activities then suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider who can assess their personal risk and suggest programs or services that could help.

Discuss their current health conditions. Find out if your older loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Are they taking multiple medications, referred to as polypharmacy? Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications —or are they experiencing side-effects from medications? Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily? Are hearing and vision changes becoming problematic? Also make sure they’re taking advantage of all the preventive benefits now offered under Medicare, such as the Annual Wellness visit. Encourage them to speak openly with their health care provider about all of their concerns. Evidence reveals that multi-factorial interventions can reduce the risk of falling for older adults.

Ask about their last eye checkup. If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor. Remember that using tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings and homes. A simple strategy is to change glasses upon entry or stop until their lenses adjust. Bifocals also can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious. For those already struggling with low vision, consult with a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of their eyesight. It is recommended for older adults to participate in an annual vision check.

Notice if they’re holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking or if they appear to have difficulty walking or arising from a chair. These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist. Physical Therapists are considered the “Movement Specialists” and can help your older loved one improve their balance, strength, and ambulation through exercise skilled interventions. They might also suggest an assistive device, such as a cane or walker, and provide guidance on how to properly use these aids. Make sure to follow their advice. Poorly fit aids can actually increase one’s risk of falling.

Talk about their medications. If your older loved one is taking multiple medications, having a hard time keeping track of medicines, or is experiencing side-effects from their medications, then encourage them to discuss their concerns with their doctor and pharmacist. Suggest that they have their medications reviewed each time they get a new prescription. Prescription medications that contain sleep aids—including painkillers with “PM” in their names. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness. If your older loved one is having sleeping problems, encourage them to talk to their doctor or pharmacist about safer

Things you can do around the house. Lighting: Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs. Ensure that lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night. Stairs: Make sure there are secure rails on all stairs. Bathrooms: Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. Make sure they’re installed where your older loved one would actually use them. For even greater safety, consider using a shower chair and hand- held shower. Remove clutter such as newspapers, magazines, animal toys, cords, etc. that may become a fall hazard. Secure carpet edges and remove unnecessary throw rugs that can cause a person to trip.  Maintain commonly used items within an easy-to-grasp location to avoid climbing onto surfaces.  Avoid slippers and loose-fitted clothing that can contribute to a fall.  Consider purchasing a personal emergency response system (PERS) to notify of a fall.

Dr. Bonnie Rogulj is a faculty member at University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. She is also a practicing geriatric certified specialist, providing patient care at Brooks Rehabilitation in the mobile physical therapy department. Dr. Rogulj is also a certified Instructor of the evidence-based community falls prevention program called Stepping On.

 

 

 

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