Three different senior women I know have suffered accidental falls recently. A broken hip is always a concern with falls, but all three of these women landed on their face and look like raccoons with two black eyes. It is just heartbreaking and scary, and a confidence demolisher if it happens to you.
The Maine CDC says that accidental falls are the leading cause of injury related deaths in Maine for people over 65. It occurs more to women than to men. What is shocking in this statistic is that I have never known anyone to die directly from a fall, but have seen uncountable numbers of people over the years suffer life-changing injuries from falling.
The single most frequent reason that seniors seek either in-home care or assisted living is that there has recently been a fall, and sometimes a few falls. Each year the Lincoln Home welcomes residents who come for a short-term winter stay of a few months. It is a nice way to soften the Maine winter, but more importantly, short-term residents know how easy it is to slip and fall on hidden ice even when you’re being careful.
Even Minor Falls Can Lead to Serious Injury
Even minor fall can results in a severe injury such as a fracture of the hip, pelvis or femur requiring a hospitalization. Recovery from such an injury can be an obstacle course that can lead to other debilitating health problems. According to the Maine CDC, in accidental falls that resulted in death, it is because the fallen person had no way to call for help, and suffered internal bleeding because of the fracture, or suffered from exposure and hypothermia.
Many factors can increase one’s risk for an accidental fall. These include: Impaired hearing and vision; General loss of muscular strength and tone; Arthritis; Osteoporosis (Many people think osteoporosis is only a problem for women past menopause, but it can also affect older men); Vertigo; Cerebrovascular insufficiency; Neurologic disabilities such as a past stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, or Dementias; Postural hypotension (sudden decrease in blood pressure). Sometimes a newly prescribed medication may cause dizziness.
Keeping Your Muscle Strength and Balance to Prevent Falls
If you are deconditioned, it is useful to consult with a Physical Therapist to receive an exercise prescription that is suitable for your current state of strength and health. The therapist will identify areas of weakness and imbalance that you are able to strengthen through specific exercises. These are not strenuous exercises! However, they are muscle specific, and receiving guidance can help you strengthen muscles you never think about, such as your foot and lower leg muscles, and the small muscles that support your spine.
Doing things like getting together with friends, gardening, walking, or going to the local senior fitness center are important for staying healthy. The good news is that there are simple ways to prevent most falls. By taking care of your overall health, you may be able to lower your chances of falling.
In general, you should stay physically active within your abilities, but also seek to gently challenge your abilities so that you maintain them. Regular walking improves your muscle strength, and keeps your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Yoga is wonderful anti-aging medicine. Physical strengthening of the muscles used for balance is possible even for those in their 80’s and 90’s if a neuromuscular disorder is not present. We can definitely maintain and improve our strength, balance and flexibility through a variety of functional movement exercises.
Falls can never be completely eliminated. You’d have to wrap everyone in bubble wrap to totally prevent fall injuries. People need to lead their lives, and trying to eliminate all risk is simply not the way we do things in Maine.
However, being a strong and independent Mainer doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to reduce the potential for harm with some common sense measures. Call Valerie Lovelace, One2One Home Care Manager to arrange an in-home Fall Prevention Assessment. To learn more about Short-term Winter Stays at Lincoln Home, call Steve Raymond at 207-563-3350.