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Falls Prevention Week: Six steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling

Joan Hatem-Roy Chief Executive Officer

Question: My mother is becoming much more afraid of falling as she gets older. Some of her friends have had serious falls, and she’s worried she could be next. What can she do to ease her fears and help prevent her from falling?

Answer: Your question is important and timely. This week is national Falls Prevention Awareness Week. Our agency has partnered with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) to promote two key points: falling is not a normal part of aging, and many falls are preventable.

One in four older adults falls every year. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in people aged 65 and over, resulting in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. More than 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, a history of strokes, or arthritis, which can increase their risk of falling, according to NCOA. and falling can be a deeply traumatic experience, causing many adults to hesitate to venture beyond their homes, leading them to become fearful, isolated, and depressed.

Here are six steps people can take to help older adults reduce the risk of falling:

  1. Ask whether older adults are concerned about falling. If they have experienced falling, dizziness, or problems with balance, suggest they mention this to a physician.
  2. Discuss their current health conditions. Are they having trouble managing their health? Is it more difficult to complete their daily routine? Are they taking advantage of Medicare’s preventative benefits, such as annual wellness visits?
  3. Ask about their last eye checkup. When was it? Is their prescription up to date and are they using their eyeglasses as advised by their eye doctor?
  4. Notice whether they are holding onto walls, furniture, or another individual when walking. Do they struggle to get up out of a chair? They could need to work with a physical therapist to improve their balance, strength, and gait. Or perhaps they would benefit from using a cane or walker.
  5. Talk about medications. Be sure they are taking these as instructed. Be aware that non-prescription medications containing sleep aids—those with “PM” in their names—may cause balance issues and dizziness.
  6. Do a walk-through safety assessment of their home. Check for safety issues involving lighting, stairs, and the shower/bathtub and toilet in the bathroom.

Our Healthy Living Center of Excellence offers evidence-based programs that strengthen older adults, improve their sense of balance, and encourage them to become more active and resilient. These programs are fun, free, and can be taken online or in person. They include Walk with Ease, which prompts seniors to pursue this safe and efficient exercise; Tai Ji Quan, a balancing regimen based on traditional exercises and modern research; and A Matter of Balance, which presents practical strategies to avoid falls and reduce the fear of falling.

Knowledge is power—so we all have the power to reduce the number of falls seniors like your mother experience. Let’s spread falls prevention awareness, now and throughout the year.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 800-892-0890 or email info@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.