September 26, 2017

Five tips to prevent falls this winter

By Jonathan Kaspar

Special to the Observer

The winter months bring opportunities for joyous celebrations with family and friends. Those cold months also bring the risk of serious injuries due to falls. Astonishingly, half of seniors are “frequent fallers,” and one third of seniors fall every year. As falls can result in serious injuries such as hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries, fall prevention is a must for those over 65 years of age.

According to Victoria Braund, MD, FACP, who is director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at NorthShore University HealthSystem and medical director at Brandel Health & Rehab at Covenant Village of Northbrook, a continuing care retirement community, there are several factors that can contribute to falls.

“Falls are caused by either intrinsic or extrinsic factors,” explained Braund. “Intrinsic factors include age, hearing or vision loss and medical issues, while extrinsic factors include medications and a person’s environment. Falls not only pose a risk of serious injury, but can also cause you to live in fear of falling, which can impact your quality of life.”

Braund offers five tips to help prevent falls:

Monitor the effects of medications: Medications can often have unpleasant side effects that can contribute to falls. These side effects can include dizziness, changes in blood pressure and drowsiness. Review your prescriptions with your doctor to keep track of schedules and side effects.

Use assistive devices: Using canes, walkers, hearing aids or other fitted assistive devices can help reduce the risk of injury.

Assess the safety of the environment: Poor lighting, area rugs, bathrooms and clutter can create a dangerous living environment for those with mobility, vision and/or hearing challenges. There are several simple measures that can help prevent falls, including:

– Ensuring stairs have adequate lighting and railings

– Checking that area rugs have no-slip pads beneath them

– Installing grab bars in bathrooms

– Clearing clutter from high-traffic areas in the living space

– Securing cords to ensure they are not in main walkways

Exercise regularly: Not only can regular exercise improve heart and lung functioning, but it also improves balance and muscle strength, which helps reduce falls.

Stay hydrated: Dehydration can cause dizziness – and that can lead to a fall! As we grow older, we lose our sense of thirst, so make it a common practice to consume at least six glasses of water daily – even if you don’t feel thirsty.

In addition to following these tips, regular osteoporosis screenings are wise. Braund added, “The risk of falls increases with every decade of age. As osteoporosis can lead to a greater risk of a fracture if a fall occurs, regular screenings for bone loss and taking a proper medication or supplement if detected is a must.”

For more tips on fall prevention, visit National Council on Aging’s website at ncoa.org.

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