Wellness Wednesday – Preventing falls

SALT LAKE CITY - The fear of falling and getting hurt can be a big concern, especially for older adults. Each year, millions of adults suffer falls that cause hip fractures or head trauma, both of which can increase the risk of early disability or death.

83-year-old Peter Wright and is 81-year-old wife Leda, are very well aware of the dangers and risk of falling. "At my age, the people that I know that have had falls have broken something, and nine out of ten times that person has a had a very hard time recovering," said Wright.

In fact, injuries from falls are more common than you think, and can affect all age groups. "Falls are our number one mechanism of injury here at our trauma center, and actually most trauma centers across the country," said Dr. David Morris, Trauma Surgeon for Intermountain Medical Center.

Even if you don't have a high risk behavior, you can be at risk for a fall that leads to serious injury. "It's not an extreme sport, it's not skiing, it's not car crashes, it's falls at home," said Morris.

Every day obstacles can greatly increase your chances of falling. Intermountain Injury and Trauma Prevention Coordinator Teresa Brunt suggests making simple changes to reduce your risk. Wearing supportive footwear, eliminating throw rugs that can cause you to slip, and adding grab bars to your to your bathrooms at home are all simple changes that can make a big different when it comes to falls.

Brunt also suggests talking to loved ones who may be more prone to falls. "It's OK to be gracefully older and to embrace that. We want to do the best for you to keep you active and do things that keep you that way," said Brunt.

Here are some tips to help keep you on your feet and moving forward safely:

  • Exercise regularly. Get up and move! Do exercises that improve your balance and make your legs stronger. Building muscles and keeping ligaments lean and strong helps you walk with confidence.
  • Talk to your family members or others close to you. Ask them to help you take simple steps to stay safe. An unsafe home increases the risk for falling for everyone, from the very young to the very old.
  • Regularly review your medications with your doctor and/or pharmacist. This includes medications prescribed by all of your healthcare providers and any over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, or herbs you are using. Some combinations may cause side effects that increase your risk of falling. Take your medications only as prescribed.
  • Ask your doctor to assess your risk for falling. And make sure to share your history of any recent falls.
  • Get your vision and hearing checked every year and update your eyeglasses. Your eyes and ears are key to keeping you on your feet.
  • Get up slowly after you sit or lie down. Wear shoes both inside and outside the house. Avoid going barefoot or wearing slippers.
  • Keep your home safe. Remove tripping hazards, such as rugs and toys, increase lighting in low-light areas, make stairs safe by installing hand rails and non-slip surfaces and removing obstacles, and install grab bars in areas of uneven flooring and the bathroom.
  • It’s safest to have uniform lighting in a room. Add lighting to dark areas. Hang lightweight curtains or shades to reduce glare.
  • Paint a contrasting color on the top edge of all steps so you can see the stairs better. For example, use a light color paint on dark wood.
  • Take a falls prevention class from Intermountain Healthcare.

Looking to prevent dangerous falls and improve your balance and strength? Then attend Intermountain Healthcare's "Stepping On: Fall Prevention Series."

This interactive eight-week course brings together physical therapists, pharmacists, and community safety experts to teach fall prevention strategies. This class is great for seniors who want to maintain an independent lifestyle, and best of all, it's free. Sign up today by visiting IntermountainHealthcare.org/classes.

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