Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fall Prevention: A Primer

Falling. Kids do it all the time. It’s quite another thing, though, when an adult falls. Oh, sure, if you’re in the middle of a rousing game of volleyball or backyard football, you are sure to fall. And it happens on the slopes. But when you see your mother or grandfather, aunt or brother fall, it sends signals of worry and concern racing through you. You can probably remember the first time you saw one of your parents fall, seemingly for no reason. Whether it was missing a step, tripping over a threshold or crack in the sidewalk, or falling out of bed, it makes an impression. Falling cannot be taken lightly. Breaking bones, especially at an advanced age, is so often the beginning of a serious decline.

Science tells us that as we age, our bones often become more brittle through osteoporosis. Muscle mass declines typically 5 to 10 pounds per decade of life. And then there is the delicate, but amazing, process of balance that we rely on. Balance is the result of a highly sophisticated process that originates in an organ in our inner ear, called the labyrinth. The balance process, referred to as the vestibular system, relies on the motion of fluid through the three canals within the inner ear. The functions of each of these semicircular canals work in conjunction with our musculo-skeletal system to achieve states of balance. There are countless elements at play. It’s a wonder we ever keep our balance! With so many parts involved, it is also no wonder that some go awry occasionally as we age.

So, what’s to be done? Of course, if someone you care about if falling, you want to find out what the cause is. Eliminating cause is always an important place to start. However, if it’s due to an illness, diagnosis may take a long time, or treatment may not be fully possible, depending on the condition. There are often environmental hazards that contribute to falling, regardless of why an individual falls. Sometimes, those hazards might be the cause. As someone who cares, there are a few tips to ensure that the environment is safe for the individual. Here are some well-proven ideas:
  • Get rid of those throw rugs! A designer’s delight, these things are a fall waiting to happen.
  • Install night lights in bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms.
  • Be sure to have grab bars well-positioned near the bath tub, shower and in front of the kitchen sink. Some even place them in hallways. There are some lovely designer bars available today to go with a home’s décor.
  • Using bed rails, the versatile Bed Cane, or installing a SuperPole near the bed ensures safety in the bedroom.
  • Place non-skid mats in the bathtub, shower and in front of the kitchen sink. We find adding Soapy Soles to the home makes showering safe AND fun.
  • Tie back or remove loose electrical cords from common thoroughfares in the home.
  • Install handrails outside and inside the home.
  • Install a stairlift to ensure safe access to places in the home with stairs.
  • Remove clutter from thoroughfares in the home. (See our web log this week on A Place for Everything for more ideas.)
  • Keep floors and walking surfaces dry.
  • Switch to cordless phones to eliminate phone cords.
  • Avoid wearing loose fitting slippers, sandals or shoes. Shoes with rubber soles are best if falling is a problem.
  • Bifocal lenses can often be a source of difficulty. Having two separate pairs of glasses, one for reading and one for movement, might help solve a problem of depth perception.
  • Watch out for alcohol consumption. Especially when taking medication, consuming alcohol can be a problem, impairing balance.
  • Use a walker or cane. Be sure to get usage tips and training before using this equipment.
  • When exiting from a car, use the HandyBar or Car Caddy which provide a handle for stability and balance.
  • Install an alarm on the bed or chair of a loved one if s/he is in danger of falling when getting up. These systems can be minimally invasive to the individual and provide you with peace of mind.
  • Gait belts are used when the individual you are assisting needs help transferring from one location to another. The use of a gait belt is also useful as someone is rehabilitating after a stroke or other injury or illness. Be sure to discuss the use of gait belts with a physician or physical therapist to avoid injury.
Of course, working on strength and balance during your life is essential. Exercise, stretching, balancing training are all essential to ensuring that your body stays fit and strong to prevent falls in the future. Try an exercise ball or use a Sit Fit disc to strengthen core muscles, even while you work at your desk. Or, a foot flexer designed for use sitting or standing to stretch the Achilles’ tendon and ham strings, helping with overall foot flexibility and health. Resistance bands also provide a way to enhance upper body strength.

If you find yourself in a position with a loved one where you are worried all the time about his or her propensity for falling, please find resources to help you. Please contact us at Capabilities for a list of providers who offer in-home services or provide more detailed training for you and your loved one on how to prevent falls. We also offer home evaluations to help you assess safety and offer ideas for accessibility and fall prevention.

What kinds of prevention have you used? Please submit your comments so others can benefit from your experiences.

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