BY SUSAN COTE
Tony Simanskas, firefighter and paramedic, and Sherry Pidgeon, occupational therapist, want to help local seniors avoid one of the most common health risks they face: falls.
The National Council on Aging recognizes the first week of fall as Falls Prevention Awareness Week. According to the CDC, more than one out of four Americans over the age of 65 suffers a fall each year.
The American Geriatrics Society’s www. HealthinAging.org website notes that falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in that age group.
Most of these falls happen at home. Many of them are preventable.
“We get almost daily calls from people who have fallen,” says Simanskas, a senior firefighter, paramedic and EMS and paramedic coordinator for the Williston Fire Department.
Recognizing a need for education and prevention, a few years ago Simanskas researched the problem and developed a presentation that he offers annually to area senior communities.
Pidgeon, who is a licensed occupational therapist and certified aging-in-place specialist, in 2020 opened Home Mobility VT, a therapy practice in Williston with a focus on residential safety. She, too, has been active in reaching out to seniors about preventing falls. This summer, she spoke to residents of the Eagle Crest, Falcon Manor and Williston Place communities.
Earlier this month, she appeared on the UVM extension program “Across the Fence,” which airs on WCAX, to raise awareness of measures seniors and their families can take to reduce their risk.
In June, Simanskas and Pidgeon teamed up for the Williston Fire Department’s fall prevention presentation, live-streamed on Facebook, after the two connected over their shared interest.
Among the readily addressable risk factors they highlighted are slippery surfaces, obstacles such as cords or clutter in pathways, floor mats that can be tripped on, unstable footwear and inadequate lighting. Poor lighting can be a particular safety concern for seniors who get up in the night to visit the bathroom.
Pidgeon notes that a simple solution to mitigate the risk of a nighttime fall is to install night lights. This year, the fire department started carrying night lights in their vehicles so that they can be provided to people in the community who can benefit from them.
“Sherry introduced the idea of the night light project and we ran with it,” said Simanskas, who got a voucher donated from a local company to purchase an initial supply of night lights. “Every time we go to (the home of) an individual who has a risk of falling due to a poorly lit hallway or room, we can offer these night lights to help reduce the risk of a fall due to inadequate lighting.”
The Rotary Club of Williston-Richmond recently provided a $100 grant to fund the purchase of additional lights after learning about the program from Pidgeon.
“I love the education part. It’s a message I feel is really important to get out,” she said.
Six steps to prevent falls
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury. Many falls are preventable. Stay safe with these tips from the National Council on Aging:
1. Find a good balance and exercise program – Look to build balance, strength and flexibility. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for referrals. Find a program you like and take a friend.
2. Talk to your health care provider – Ask for an assessment of your risk of falling. Share your history of recent falls.
3. Regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist – Make sure side effects aren’t increasing your risk of falling. Take medications only as prescribed.
4. Get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eyeglasses – Eyes and ears can be key to keeping you on your feet.
5. Keep your home safe – Remove tripping hazards, increase lighting, make stairs safe and install grab bars in key areas.
6. Talk to your family members – Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Falls are not just a seniors’ issue.
To learn more, visit www.ncoa.org/FallsPrevention.