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Falls can have bad consequences, and they're often preventable
ILLUSTRATION BY EDEL TRIPP/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY DONYA CURRIE
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Anything can lead to a fall--icy sidewalks, ill-fitting
"I wasn't watching where I was going," said Lois Stevens, 77, of Fredericksburg, who fell on a sidewalk outside a friend's house last March and broke her arm in three places. "I could feel myself going down, and I just said, 'Oh, God, help me.'"
Stevens, who underwent months of rehabilitative therapy and still doesn't have full use of her left arm, is one of the estimated 1.5 million older adults who suffer serious falls each year. Falls kill 4,700 elderly Americans yearly.
The Home Safety Council, a national nonprofit based
Those steps can be as simple as taking a daily vitamin supplement, keeping a light on in the hallway leading to the bathroom, and getting rid of area rugs.
"Please don't be storing things on the floor," advises nurse practitioner Mary Beth Reckmeyer of Mary Washington Hospital's Senior Care Services.
She believes in routine, structure and consistency when it comes to helping older adults avoid falling at home.
FALLS AREN'T INEVITABLE
During health assessments, Reckmeyer said, she always asks her elderly patients, "Do you fall?"
"Sometimes the patient will say no, and their family member is standing behind them nodding yes," Reckmeyer said.
She and her colleagues try to remind the patients there's no shame in admitting that falling is a problem.
Many medications can cause dizziness. Some conditions, such as diabetes, can lead to numbness in the feet that makes it tough to move from one room to another, let alone across grocery-store aisles or along uneven sidewalks.
Physical and occupational therapy can help with many balance and strength issues that increase the risk of falls in the elderly, said Ralph Perez, rehab specialty director for Amedisys Home Health of Fredericksburg.
His company has developed a nationwide fall-prevention program called "Balanced for Life" that addresses problems in the inner ear that can cause vertigo, among other issues.