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The Times
  • Saulnier/Gebski: Strategies for reducing seniors' risk of falling

  • With winter weather quickly approaching, it’s a good time to think about strategies to reduce the risk of falls as we brave the elements.

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  • The recent devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy serve as a humbling reminder of the powerful forces of Mother Nature. With winter weather quickly approaching, it’s a good time to think about strategies to reduce the risk of falls as we brave the elements.
    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one in every three adults over the age of 65 falls each year. Fall-related injuries are the leading cause of injury, deaths and disabilities among older adults. The most serious fall injury is hip fracture. One half of all older adults hospitalized for hip fracture never regain their former level of function. Certain factors may increase the risk for falls. These include advanced age, muscle weakness, environmental hazards, use of psychoactive medications and previous falls. Injuries that occur during these falls are largely preventable.
    There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of falls. Research demonstrates that effective fall prevention strategies require a multifaceted approach. This means that you can change things about yourself such as your strength, flexibility and staying active. You can change your behavior such as the strategies that you use to complete a task. You can also change some things about your environment.
    One of the most important ways to improve your balance and help to decrease risk of falls is to participate in regular exercise. Stay flexible, strong and active. It is also recommended to have your eyes examined at least once yearly. Avoid bifocal or trifocal glasses for walking outdoors or going up or down stairs. Wear well-fitted, supportive footwear to improve balance. High-heels or open back shoes should be used with caution. Your health care provider can make specific footwear recommendations. Review your medications (prescription and over the counter) with your doctor or pharmacist. Some medications have side effects or interactions that may cause dizziness or drowsiness. Osteoporosis screening and proper nutrition are also important in reducing fractures that can occur as a result from a fall.
    Consider changing the strategies that you use to complete a task. For example, put your laundry in a bag and throw it down the stairs instead of carrying it. Wear a backpack to transport items rather than carrying them. Use an assistive device such as a cane or walker to help increase your confidence. Also consider sitting to do an activity instead of standing. Avoid distractions while performing a challenging task and try not to multi-task.
    Finally, change your environment. Make sure that hallways and stairwells are well lit; use nightlights. Create color contrasts in areas where there are ramps, steps or thresholds to avoid tripping. Remove throw rugs and clutter. Maintain easy telephone access; consider a cordless phone. Walking outdoors can be more challenging than indoors because of the uneven surfaces and increased distances involved. Consider a walking aide or attachable shoe spikes outdoors or on icy surfaces even if you do not use one in your home.
    Page 2 of 2 - Collectively these recommendations can help you to reduce your chance of falling. However, falling is not a normal part of aging. Falls can be a sign of a variety of underlying medical problems. If you or someone you know is having balance problems or falls, it is important to seek medical attention. A physical therapist can perform individual evaluations to assist in determining potential causes of balance deficits and falls and prescribe appropriate treatment programs to address these issues.
    Ashley Saulnier, PT, DPT is a physical therapist at Spaulding Outpatient Center Framingham, Mass. She has a Doctorate of Physical Therapy as well as certification in Vestibular Rehabilitation. Kate Gebski, PT, MSPT, NCS is a physical therapist at Spaulding Outpatient Center Framingham, Mass. She has a Masters of Science in physical therapy as well as Board Certification as a neurologic clinical specialist. Both Ashley and Kate have a special interest in treating patients with neurological diagnoses as well balance disorders and falls.

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