News Release

September 17, 2001

 

Preventing falls among seniors part of healthy aging

 

Helping the elderly reduce falls, among seniors the leading cause of injury deaths and the most common cause of injuries and hospital trauma admissions, begins with making homes safer.

Most falls occur during everyday activities in the home, especially on stairs and in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms.

"Falls can result in many kinds of hardships for seniors," said Koyne Smith, a benefits counselor with the Houston/Harris County Area Agency on Aging at the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. "They can lead to financial woes because of health care related costs, reduce a seniorís ability to live independently, cause great suffering during convalescence and result in disabilities."

September is Healthy Aging Month and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that one of every three people 65 years and older falls each year in the United States. CDC statistics also indicate that the elderly are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes and that falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among people 65 years and older.

Among older adults, fractures are the most serious health outcomes associated with falls. The most common are fractures of the hip, pelvis, femur, vertebrae, humerus, hand, forearm, leg and ankle. Approximately 250,000 hip fractures, the most serious fracture, occur each year in the United States among people over age 65.

Precautions in the home can substantially cut the risk of falling:

  • Make sure there is a clear walkway through every room. It is a good idea to remove tripping hazards such as books, clothes, shoes and extension cords from walkways. Objects out of their normal place may be overlooked and cause a person to trip.

  • Remove or replace rugs and runners that tend to slip or attach a non-slip backing. Also, tack down the edges of all carpets. Use non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower floors.

  • Always use a sturdy step stool to prevent a fall while retrieving items stored in high places. Store frequently-used items in easy to access cabinets. A chair should not be used as a step stool. If a chair must be used, select a sturdy one with a wide seat and a high back (placed in front of you).

  • Install grab bars or handrails in the bathtub area or shower and next to the toilet. Install easy-to-grasp handrails along stairs and use them even if the steps are easy to climb. Carry loads that are small enough not to block your vision or prevent you from freeing up a hand.

  • Wear non-slip, low-heeled shoes or slippers that fit snugly.

  • Good lighting can prevent many falls. Install night-lights in the bedroom, bathroom and hallways. Make sure that light switches are accessible from the top and bottom of a stairway.

  • Wipe up spills immediately.

Some medicines have side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness or fatigue, placing seniors at a greater risk of falling. It is recommended that seniors ask a doctor or pharmacist to review their medications.

Poor vision increases the chances of falling. Vision checks should be scheduled at least once a year.

Exercise improves muscle flexibility and strength and helps with balance and coordination. It is best to consult with a doctor before starting an exercise program.

For more information, call the Houston/Harris County Area Agency on Aging at 713-794-9001.

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