Genesh: Finding balance when outside gets slippery

Falls among seniors happen to the same extent indoors and oudtoors: Statistics Canada

It is once again that time of the year when we have to be watchful of every step when walking outdoors. Many people, myself included, who regularly walk during summer stay indoors during winter, for fear of falling and getting injured. But statistics reveal that falls among seniors happen to the same extent indoors and outdoors.

According to Statistics Canada, the major cause of injury among seniors in Canada is falls and every year one in three seniors will fall. Fall-related injuries are nine times commoner in seniors than those below the age of 65. These injuries can affect your independence, prevent you from enjoying wonderful moments with friends and grandchildren, and living in your own home.

Even if a fall does not cause any injury, it can result in a constant fear of falling, and a self-imposed restriction of activities including exercise, causing further deterioration of health and function and a higher risk of falls. Seniors who have suffered fall-related injuries seldom recover fully, and are often left with chronic pain, reduced mobility, and low self-confidence.

The good news is that falls can be prevented. The first step to fall prevention is understanding what causes them. Poor balance, decreased muscle and bone strength, reduced vision or hearing, and unsafe conditions in and around the home can increase your chance of falling.

Almost half of all falls occur inside the home, in the bathroom and on the stairs, from loose rugs, improper lighting, and poorly placed furnishings. Factors outside the home include poor lighting, slippery sidewalks, potholes in the road and sidewalks. Institutional hazards such as poorly designed buildings, and non-compliance to safety and building standards and regulations, also contribute to falls.

Mayo clinic suggests six simple doable fall prevention measures.

1. Initiate your fall prevention plan by making an appointment with your doctor. Carry a list of your current medication so that your doctor can review it for side effects or interactions, and discontinue medications that may increase your risk of falling. If you have a history of falls, document details about when, where, and how you fell, to evaluate your risk of falls in future.

Should you have health conditions that cause pain or weakness in the limbs, numbness, dizziness, and shortness of breath which impair your ability to walk, discuss with your doctor, so that he/she can assess your muscle strength, exercise tolerance and level of balance. If you have a fear of falling, your doctor will suggest carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physiotherapist for a customized fitness program.

2. Regular physical activity such as walking, water exercise, and tai chi help increase your muscle strength, balance, and flexibility and thus reduce your risk of falling. Do at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

3. Wear properly fitting, sturdy, and non-skid shoes with laces/ fabric fasteners. If you are a woman and have difficulty finding wide shoes, try men’s shoes.

4. Make your home hazard-free: Remove boxes, electrical cords, and phone cords from walkways, secure or remove loose rugs, repair loose wooden floorboards or carpeting, store clothing, dishes, and other necessities within easy reach, use non-slip mats in your bathtub/shower, use non-skid floor wax, and immediately clean liquid/food spills.

5. Install proper lighting and place night lights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways. Place a lamp near your bed for emergency needs at night and always turn on the lights before using the stairs.

6. Use assistive devices such as a cane or walker if you tend to be unsteady on your feet. Other suggestions include installing handrails for both sides of stairways, raised toilet seat, grab bars for the shower, and a sturdy plastic shower seat.

Approximately 62 per cent of injury-related hospitalization, 40 per cent of nursing home admissions, and 90 per cent of hip fractures among seniors are due to falls, many of which could have been prevented. Discuss with your physician about fall prevention programs and utilize these resources to become fall-smart at home as well as outside.

Finding Balance is a national program developed by the Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta and is designed to raise awareness of preventing slips, trips, and falls among older Albertans and Canadians. This program uses real life strategies that older adults can use to lower their risk of a fall. For more information go to http://www.findingbalancealberta.ca/seniors.html

Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in Gerontology, has spent several years teaching and working with health care agencies. A past resident of Red Deer, and a past board member of Red Deer Golden Circle, she is now a Learning Specialist at the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. Please send your comments to padmajaganeshy@yahoo.ca

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