The Best of…Don’t Fall Flat on Your Face: Simple Tips to Keeping Standing

     Published Julyl 11f, All Pawtucket All The Time

      I  know how easy it is to fall.  On March 14th, leaving the War in Iraq Art Exhibit this writer, an aging baby boomer, fell down several steep steps, tripping after he walked through the huge wooden front door, falling down several slippery steps in front of the historic Pawtucket Armory onto the front sidewalk.   Thank God…No serious injury, only a bruised ego and shins, and scuffed up palms. .

        Three months later, within weeks of each other, two of my older friends, in their seventies, unexpectedly fell.  One tripped on a rug in his kitchen breaking several ribs.  The other one fell down a flight of stairs outside his bedroom injuring his spine. Luckily, both are on the mend, slowly recuperating in their homes.

       But for others who were not so lucky as my elderly friends, traumatic brain injuries due to falls caused nearly 8,000 deaths and 56,000 hospitalizations in 2005 among Americans age 65 and older, according to a new report released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  .

      The national report notes that traumatic brain injuries, (called TBIs), are caused by a bump or blow to the head; however, they maybe missed or misdiagnosed among older adults. TBI often results in long-term cognitive, emotional, and/or functional impairments. In 2005, TBIs accounted for 50 percent of unintentional fall deaths and 8 percent of nonfatal fall-related hospitalizations among older adults.

      According to the CDC report, each year, one in three older Americans (65 and older) falls, and 30 percent of falls cause injuries requiring medical treatment. In 2005, nearly 16,000 older adults died from falls, 1.8 million older adults were treated in emergency departments, and 433,000 of these patients were hospitalized. Falls were the leading cause of injury deaths and nonfatal injuries for those 65 and over. 

      Falls are not an inevitable consequence of aging, the researchers say, but they do occur more often among older adults because risk factors for falls are usually associated with health and aging conditions.  These conditions include mobility problems due to muscle weakness or poor balance, loss of sensation in feet, chronic health conditions, vision changes or loss, medication side effects or drug interactions, and home and environmental hazards such as clutter or poor lighting.

      “Most people think older adults may only break their hip when they fall, but our research shows that traumatic brain injuries can also be a serious consequence,” said Dr. Ileana Arias, director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in her statement announcing the release of her agency’s report.  “These injuries can cause long-term problems and affect how someone thinks or functions.  They can also impact a person’s emotional well-being.”

      Reducing falls can be a simple as removing obvious household hazards along with adding or improving simple safety features in the home, notes an AARP spokesperson in response to CDC’s released report.  The Washington, DC-based nonprofit group represents over 39 million members, age 50 plus, in the United States.    

       According to AARP, studies indicate that half of all falls happen at home and research suggests that one-third of home accidents can be prevented by easy home updates and preventative maintenance.

       It’s easy to fall-proof your home, AARP says.  Aging baby boomers or the elderly parents can:  Install handrails on both sides of all steps (both in and outside);  Secure all carpets and area rugs with double-sided tape;  Install easy to grasp shaped handles for all drawers and cabinet doors; Use brighter bulbs in all lighting fixtures;  Install night lights in all areas of night activity;  Add reflective, non-slip tape on all non-carpeted stairs;  Install lever handles for all doors;  Place a bench near entrances for setting down purchases and resting;  Install closet lights, as well as adjustable rods and shelves; Install rocker light switches; and consider illuminated ones in select areas.

       Finally, why not check out your local hardware stores, too, the businesses even carry many of the products to make simple updates to homes. For homeowners making more extensive renovations, AARP recommends that they consider hiring a contractor who is licensed, certified and bonded to do work in that particular location. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) is a professional designation signaling that contractors have had specified additional training, but homeowners should still ask for documentation that the contractor is licensed or certified and bonded.

      Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers medical, aging and health care issues. The article was published in the July 11, 2008 issue of All Pawtucket All The Time.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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