Countless falls prepare a baby for their first step. But for people older than 65, falling can cause serious injuries and possibly the final steps.
An assessment released by Grant County Public Health on Oct. 30 showed that 30 percent of the Grant County population is older than 65 and that Oregon will see an increasing population of older adults. As the population grows older, the risk of falling also increases.
One out of three adults 65 years and older fall each year according to Karissa Debenport, a physical therapist at Blue Mountain Hospital, and Stacie Klusmier, an occupational therapist at Blue Mountain Hospital. Less than half of the people who have fallen talk to their health care providers about it.
Aside from physical injuries, falling can also cause fear to develop in some people.
“This fear may cause them to limit their activities, which leads to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness and in turn, increases their actual risk of falling,” Debenport said. “Injuries and fear of falling make it increasingly hard to get around and live independently.”
In Grant County, some of the common causes for falling are icy and slippery stairs, uneven surfaces inside and outside a home, tripping on throw rugs, tripping over oxygen tubing, not using assistive devices appropriately, not taking medications as prescribed, inappropriate use of alcohol, vertigo, dizziness and impaired vision, said Klusmier and Debenport.
There are ways for people 65 and over to minimize the risk of falling by recognizing potential hazards. Simple exercise routines that can help as well. Keeping traction with the floor is an important first step: be sure to wear footwear with a non-slip sole. Make sure socks have a firm grip, especially on hardwood floors.
“Remove throw rugs from all areas of the home,” Debenport said. “Use a non-slip rug only at the shower or tub side when entering or exiting the shower. When not in use, pick it up. If you have any balance difficulty, use a cane or walker for stability.”
When walking in and out of home, be sure to keep your night lights on at all time to avoid any visible hazard. If you have steps to enter or exit your home, consider installing a ramp.
If needed, look for people or devices which can help prevent falls.
“Use a reacher or grabber device for getting things that have fallen on the floor,” Klusmier and Debenport said. “Consider a caregiver to assist with showering, chores, dressing, etc., if you’re having particular difficulty with balance or have a fear of falling. Consider having grab bars installed at entry areas, at side of toilet, and in the shower.”
During the winter, ice can be difficult to avoid but there are ways to minimize the risk. Prepare ahead of time by using salt to deal with areas that tend to freeze and become slippery. Avoid walking in the dark since ice will be difficult to spot.
While the county or hospital does not provide any programs to avoid falling, it is recommended that seniors regularly visit their Primary Care Physician and share any changes they are experiencing with strength, balance and vision after falling. People can also consider physical therapy at Blue Mountain Hospital.