COLUMBUS – Fall officially arrives in the Buckeye State Wednesday, and with it comes Falls Prevention Awareness Day, calling attention to the frequency and seriousness of falls among older people and ways to prevent them.
An estimated one in three people age 65 and older takes a major, unexpected tumble at least once a year, which should signal that a closer look at their fall risk may be in order. A fall-risk evaluation includes a person’s gait and balance, health conditions, medications and home environment.
Dr. Sascha Dublin, internal medicine physician and investigator at Group Health Research Institute, said it can be a challenge getting an older relative or friend to agree to this checkup – but it’s important to try.
“One of the things I find my patients are particularly responsive to is, there may be things they really don’t want to work on,” she said, “but when I talk about how important is it to you to stay in your own home and stay independent, they’re often really highly motivated to do things that will let them stay independent as long as possible.”
Dublin said people who use balance aids such as canes or walkers often need a little training to use them correctly, and may be using a hand-me-down piece of equipment that isn’t the right size or height and can put them at greater risk of a fall.
Dublin recommended preventive steps including exercise as people age – and not just any exercise, but those that can improve strength, balance and coordination. Tai chi is at the top of her list, but there are others.
“Many people don’t realize how much improvement they may be able to get with becoming more physically active,” she said. “So for instance, there have been randomized trials that took 90-year-olds to do very gentle weight-lifting in the gym, and found substantial benefits from just small amounts of gentle weightlifting to strengthen leg muscles.”
According to state data, each day in Ohio, eight adults age 65 and older visit the emergency room for fall-related injuries. More information is online at healthy.ohio.gov.