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Falls Prevention Awareness Week, September 21-25
In the United States, 1 in 4 older adults falls every year. That’s a fall every second of every day. And, every 20 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.
While falls may be common, falling is NOT a normal part of aging. In fact, falls are mostly preventable! If you have an aging parent, grandparent, or neighbor in your life, helping them reduce their risk of falling is a great way to help them stay as healthy and independent as possible.
To get a personalized look at risk factors for falling and how to address them, use the new falls free online checkup tool from the National Council on Aging, ncoa.org/FallsFreeCheckUp.
Instead of worrying or ignoring the risks factors, addressing them and making a plan can help older adults be empowered and independent. Here is a printable flyer on the risk factors to share with your friends and family. It’s a nice way to reach out and show you care!
With awareness of the risk factors for falling and knowledge that falls are mostly preventable, follow these 6 steps to protect your older loved one from a fall:
- Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Ask your older loved one if they’re concerned about falling. Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt—even if they’ve already fallen in the past. If they’re concerned about falling, dizziness, or balance, suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider who can assess their personal risk and suggest programs or services that could help.
- Discuss their current health conditions. Find out if your older loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications—or are they experiencing side effects? Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily? Are hearing and vision changes becoming problematic? Also make sure they’re taking advantage of all the preventive benefits now offered under Medicare, such as the Annual Wellness visit. Encourage them to speak openly with their health care provider about all of their concerns.
- Ask about their last eye checkup. If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor. Remember that using tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings and homes. A simple strategy is to change glasses upon entry or stop until their lenses adjust. Bifocals also can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious. For those already struggling with low vision, consult with a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of their eyesight.
- Notice if they’re holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking or if they appear to have difficulty walking or arising from a chair. These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist. A trained physical therapist can help your older loved one improve their balance, strength, and gait through exercise. They might also suggest a cane or walker—and provide guidance on how to use these aids. Make sure to follow their advice. Poorly fit aids actually can increase the risk of falling.
- Talk about their medications. If your older loved one is having a hard time keeping track of medicines or is experiencing side effects, encourage them to discuss their concerns with their doctor and pharmacist. Suggest that they have their medications reviewed each time they get a new prescription. Also, beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids—including painkillers with “PM” in their names. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness. If your older loved one is having sleeping problems, encourage them to talk to their doctor or pharmacist about safer alternatives.
- Do a walk-through safety assessment of their home. There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer. For professional assistance, consult an Occupational Therapist.
Here are some examples:
- Lighting – Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs. Ensure that lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night.
- Stairs – Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.
- Bathrooms – Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. Make sure they’re installed where your older loved one would actually use them. For even greater safety, consider using a shower chair and hand-held shower.
For more ideas on how to make the home safer, review the home-assessment checklist from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Partner with your older adult loved one to do a home assessment and discuss opportunities to improve safety. Or, for more assistance, contact Aging and Long-Term Care of Eastern Washington at 509-458-2509.
To learn more about falls prevention, please visit www.ncoa.org/FallsPrevention
- Julie Happy