Governor Cox declares “Falls Prevention Week” in Utah
As the weather cools in the fall and winter quickly approaches, now is a great time to think about another kind of fall – actually preventing older people from falling and getting hurt – whether it is in their home or in unfamiliar and slippery outdoor places.
Every 13 seconds, a senior is seen in the emergency room for a fall-related injury. According to the National Council on Aging, one in four Americans over 65 falls each year, and every 20 minutes an older person dies from a fall.
In Utah, falls are the leading cause of hospitalization for non-fatal injuries for people 65 years of age and older.
In addition, more than half of Utahns aged 65 and over who have been hospitalized with a fall have been referred to residential care or a rehabilitation center.
Utah Governor Spencer Cox also declared Falls Prevention Awareness Week this week in hopes of shedding light on the largely preventable community health problem.
In the governor’s statement, he points out that one in five falls causes serious injuries such as fractures or head injuries and that falls can lead to depression, loss of mobility and loss of functional independence.
“Falls can cause hip fractures or head trauma, both of which can increase the risk of early disability or death in older adults,” said Spencer Proctor, MD, emergency physician at Intermountain Healthcare and president from the emergency department at Intermountain Riverton Hospital. “The good news is that many falls in older adults can be avoided with some planning and safety in mind. “
Marilyn Burningham, 76, knows firsthand the importance of keeping a good balance. She entered her house in southern Jordan on July 24, 2021 and leaned against a door she believed was closed. It was open and she fell down five steps. She went to Intermountain Riverton Hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with a bleeding head and transferred her to Intermountain Medical Center.
“I’m super active and just needed to slow down,” said Burningham. “I was lucky! I didn’t have to have any surgeries and was able to go home.
Burningham has now added stair railings to her home to keep her safe and give her peace of mind.
Dr. Proctor offers these tips to help older people stay upright and move forward safely:
• Regular exercise. Get up and move! Do exercises that improve your balance and strengthen your legs. Building muscle and keeping ligaments thin and strong helps you walk with more confidence.
• Keep your home safe. Remove tripping hazards, such as rugs and toys, increase lighting in low-light areas, secure stairs by installing handrails and non-slip surfaces and removing obstacles, and install grab bars in areas of uneven floor and in the bathroom. And be careful with small pets, one of the most common trip hazards for older people.
• Talk to family members or other loved ones. Ask them to help you take simple steps to stay safe. A dangerous home increases the risk of falls for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest.
· Take extra precautions in unfamiliar environments. When visiting family members, make sure their homes are also safe, eliminating trip hazards and adding extra lighting.
• Have your eyesight and hearing checked every year and update your glasses. Your eyes and ears are essential for standing.
• It is safer to have uniform lighting in a room. Add lighting to dark areas. Hang curtains or light blinds to reduce glare.
• Paint a contrasting color on the top edge of all steps so you can see the stairs better. For example, use a light-colored paint on dark wood.
• Review your medications regularly with your doctor and / or pharmacist. This includes medications prescribed by all of your health care providers and any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements, or herbs that you use. Some combinations can cause side effects that increase dizziness or the risk of falling. Take your medications only as prescribed.
• Ask your doctor to assess your risk of falling. And be sure to share your history of all recent falls.
• Get up slowly after sitting or lying down. Wear shoes both inside and outside the house. Avoid walking barefoot or just wearing socks or slippers.
• Fall prevention kit. Intermountain Healthcare emergency rooms are equipped with kits for people aged 65 and over. The kit contains – non-slip socks, night lights, information about Stepping On fall prevention courses and CDC’s My Mobility Plan which has a step-by-step guide to things to do in your home to prevent falls.
• Take a Stepping On prevention class, a strength and balance class, or a Tai Chi for Arthritis / Health class. The Utah Department of Health offers free virtual classes. Tai Chi for Arthritis / Health classes include exercises that improve muscle strength, flexibility, and fitness. The Tai Chi for Arthritis / Health program also focuses on weight transfer, which improves balance and prevents falls. You can register at https://livingwell.utah.gov.
• The Utah Falls Prevention Alliance has even more information at: https://ucoa.utah.edu/fpa/