When I was young I was amazed at Plutarch’s statement that the elder Caro began at the age of eighty to learn Greek. I am amazed no longer. Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long.— W. Somerset Maugham, British novelist, playwright and short story writer.
Last Sunday was the 6th annual National Falls Prevention Awareness Day (FPAD). Sponsored by the National Council on Aging, the day is emphasized to promote and increase public awareness about how to prevent and reduce falls among older adults.
Comedic pratfalls can be funny, but today’s topic is very serious. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for those 65 and over. The chances of falling and of being seriously injured in a fall increase with age. Every year, one in three Americans aged 65 and over falls. In the same age group, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, and 90% of hip fractures among older adults are caused by falls. Government figures indicate that after-effects and treatment for falls now equals $28.2 billion per year. This figure is expected to increase as the Baby Boomers continue to age.
On the NCOA’s web site, www.ncoa.org, is the story of Marjorie Franck of North Carolina. Ms. Franck is now 76 years old, and in November, 2010, she suffered a series of falls and, after the most serious one, she had a partial hip replacement. She had one goal: to line dance again.
Weeks of rehabilitation and targeted exercise helped Marjorie go from using a walker to walking unassisted in about a year. Now, she’s part of a regular senior exercise class and travels often with her husband in their RV. And she line dances again, not missing a step.
Franck says sometimes the exercises were hard and sometimes they hurt. Sometimes the routine was inconvenient, especially during busy tax season, as she is a tax preparer. But she persevered. She has seen others with illness or injury physically decline when they stopped moving. She said she does not want to spend the next 20 years of her life afraid to go out.
“People who fall have to want to not fall, and they have to do whatever it takes to get there,” Franck said.
Franck took the class A Matter of Balance. She also installed a railing down the back steps of her home, and she never walks down the steps without one hand free to hold the rail. She continues to travel with her husband and say “I’m not going to climb mountains, but I can walk anywhere we go.”
Senior Moments readers will want to know about the A Matter of Balance class, and I will have to rely on readers for information about whether there are any available in our area. The class was developed in 2004 by Boston University and emphasizes practical strategies to reduce fear of falling and increase activity levels. I understand that the class includes eight two-hour sessions for a small group led by a trained facilitator. Information about this class is available on the NCOA web site.
Tai Chi classes are often offered at the Bowie Senior Center, and are known to improve personal balance. Most medical clinics now perform routine fall risk assessments on older adults who come in as patients. There is much to learn about how to reduce your risk of falling, and a lot of it is available on the internet. Just google “How to Reduce your risk of falling” and you will be amazed at the results.
The NCOA, for 2013 Fall Prevention Day, prepared a poster with six ideas for reducing falling: 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. Your eyes and ears are 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.
Remember, falls are often preventable. Proven fall prevention programs offer promising direction for simple, cost-effective interventions through eliminating known risk factors and promoting behavior change that includes moving and exercise to keep strong.
Thank you for reading. Stay well. See you next week.