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Exercise and small changes at home can prevent injuries
An icy sidewalk, a poorly lit driveway, a small wrinkle in a throw rug are all accidents waiting to happen for older adults who may not be aware they are losing flexibility and balance as they age.
Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Falls can lead to moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head injuries, and can increase the risk of early death. Among seniors 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injury death. They are also the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma.
The CDC also reports that in 2010, 2.3 million older adults were treated for nonfatal falls in emergency departments. Fortunately, falls are largely preventable.
Simple changes at home, such as improving lighting in hallways and stairwells, can improve safety. Removing unnecessary hazards, such as throw rugs, and repairing damaged steps or sidewalks can also help.
Penny Clark, physical therapist at Westview West Rehab Outpatient Clinic on Clinic Drive in Bedford, said being aware of physical changes that affect balance and foot and ankle stability are also important to preventing falls.
“Lack of motion in the ankles creates a lot of falls,” said Clark. “A sedentary lifestyle contributes to that. If you’re not exercising or stretching, the ankle gets tight.”
That can cause a person to stub a toe, trip or scuff the floor, putting them off balance and causing a fall.
“Just going from hardwood floor to carpet, if you’re not raising your foot enough, you can fall,” she said.
Clark works with lots of patients who are recovering from fall-related injuries. This time of year, falls on snow and ice are common.
“It can be weeks of downtime or even as long as three months,” she said. “A hip or ankle fracture can require surgery. After surgery, there is recovery and then therapy and initially there is a lot of pain.”
Other common fall injuries are broken wrists, arms and lower back injuries.
Janice Hensley, physical therapy assistant and program director at Westview West, said older adults accustomed to being active can be reluctant to slow down or curtail activities that leave them vulnerable to falls.
“Many seniors aren’t aware their physical ability has changed,” she said. “They’ve been active all their lives and want to stay that way.”
Medication side affects that cause dizziness or drowsiness can’t be overlooked as a factor in falls.
“Watch your medicines, be aware of side effects—if they are meant to be taken with food, make sure you do,” Hensley said.
Regular exercise, especially a program that works on balance and leg strength, is also key to preventing falls, she said.
Clark recommends adults regularly stretch out their ankles and lower legs, by hanging their heels off the back of a step.
“You can also take a towel and wrap it around the ball of your foot and pull toward you, to stretch out the ankle,” she said.
She also recommends leaving night lights on throughout the house.
“A lot of people will not turn a light on at night to go to the bathroom and will fall walking in the dark,” she said.
IU Health and CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions are offering the following 10 tips for making a home safer:
1. Remove throw rugs
2. Install a grab bar in tubs and showers
3. Secure or install handrails
4. Repair steps
5. Build ramps to make entering and exiting homes safer
6. Obtain a medical alert device for seniors living alone
7. Repair or install lights in hallways and stairwells
8. Clear overgrowth and debris from walkways
9. Inspect and remove tripping hazards from homes
10. Call the Aging & Disability Resource Center at 1-800-986-3505 for local resources