A recent story in the New York Times stated that, “Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.”
A 76-year-old client recently fell off a ladder, ended up in the hospital and then the nursing home, and he was told he’d never go home again. Luckily, after a month or so, he had recovered enough so he’s now back home living alone, driving, and doing well. The date of his fall was almost exactly one year from the date when his wife died from complications arising from a fall.
My father died from complications after falling off a ladder. He was being cautious, but he just missed the last rung of the ladder on his way down.
As we age, our bodies are more fragile and take more time to recover from injuries, and older people are generally less able to recover from the physical and emotional trauma brought on by a fall. But even when seniors do recover from a fall or broken bone, the fear of falling, by itself, is enough to keep many seniors from getting out of the house even though those activities are important.
Experts estimate at least half of seniors who fall don’t tell anyone. They don’t want to acknowledge they might be aging, and this could be either due to embarrassment or fear of losing their independence. And what happens next? In many cases, the fear of falling leads them to venture out less and exercise less, and that leads to further weakness and muscle deterioration, which then increases the chance of a fall. It can become a vicious cycle.
One 98-year-old client goes up and down the stairs to the second floor a couple of times each day, but he goes slow and he grips the bannister with both hands. It works for him. He’s still active and moving around and he’s safe because he’s cautious.
Evaluate your home for safety. Check throw rugs that might cause a slip or trip, make sure you have good lighting, and check to have grab bars located in the right spots. If you aren’t familiar with the many dangers that face seniors, contact your local senior center or check the CDC website for tips.
Get your eyes checked every year or so and watch for medications that may cause drowsiness. Which exercise is best? Several studies point to tai chi. One geriatrician said, “The single most effective fall prevention strategy is the practice of strength-balance exercises and the development of muscle strength.”
And what else? Try getting screened for fall risk at least once a year and again after any fall occurs.
Take care of yourself. And try to avoid those falls.
James Ward lives in Morgan Hill. He went to law school in New England and earned a post-graduate law degree in Estate Planning at the University of Miami. Jim worked as an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney in Florida, and then returned to open his law firm focusing on Estate Planning and Elder Law. He has offices in South Valley and Willow Glen.
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