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Living Well: Fall prevention a serious matter

Created date

December 21st, 2010

To some people, tripping and falling may not seem like a big deal. But consider the fact that up to 30% of older adults who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, or head traumas. These types of injuries can make it hard to live independently and can also increase your risk of early death. Another sobering thought: Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among people age 65 and older. You may not think about preventing falls like you think about preventing heart disease or diabetes. But falls are preventable. And with the slippery surfaces that come with winter weather, you need to be especially careful both inside and outside.

What you can do

Make your home safer in general by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars and railings, and improving the lighting. Keep your porch, deck, walkways, and driveway free of leaves, snow, trash, or clutter. Cover porch steps with a gritty, weather-proof paint and install handrails on both sides if needed. When you re walking outside, wear low-heeled shoes with rubber soles for more solid footing. In very cold weather, wear warm boots so you won t lose feeling in your feet. Consider wearing hip protectors or hip pads for added protection should you fall. If sidewalks look slippery, walk in the grass. Carry a small bag of rock salt, kosher salt, or cat litter in your pocket or car for sprinkling on slippery sidewalks or streets. If you fall or you notice problems with your gait or balance, see your doctor as soon as you can. It s important to catch problems early so you can avoid falls and stay as independent as possible. Bring all of your medicines for your doctor to review (both prescription and over-the-counter). You might need some of your medications to be changed or dosages adjusted because side effects or interactions may cause dizziness, drowsiness, or balance problems. Your doctor might also recommend a physical therapy evaluation or consideration of an assistive device such as a cane or walker. Once again, if you have experienced a fall or feel that you have gait or balance problems, please see your medical provider for further evaluation. Remember, falls and related injuries can be prevented, and with winter coming, now is the time to be steady on your feet. In good health, Dr. Narrett Matt Narrett, M.D., is chief medical officer forErickson Livingand directs the provision of medical care at allErickson Living communities. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics. He is coauthor of Old is the New Young, a guide to successful aging (available