Preventing falls a key to seniors’ health

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It’s a slip on ice, a stumble over a cord, or a trip from the top of a ladder – falls are common inside and around the house, and often hit hardest for seniors.

Nov. 26 to 30 is Fall Prevention Week but that’s not to say that accidents can’t happen at any other time of the year.

Kelly Voisey, director of care and registered nurse with Nurse Next Door in Edmonton, said one in three people over the age of 65 falls each year.

Eighty-five per cent of them end up in the hospital, with the majority of accidental deaths among seniors resulting from falls.

One in four seniors who fall is over 80, with 90 per cent of all hip fractures being the result of a fall.

Voisey said this increases the need for fall prevention, as 20 per cent of seniors die within a year following an operation on the bone due to repeat falling or a decreased immune system.

“Some of the ways we suggest to folks to prevent a fall from occurring is to keep things out of their direct pathway,” she said.

“Making sure that extension cords are out of the way, have cordless phones so they don’t walk to the phone every time it rings, make sure that dishes and food are in lower cupboards so they don’t reach up to grab something heavy.”

She said most falls occur at night when seniors walk to the bathroom in the dark.

Medications such as anti-anxiety pills and sleeping pills can increase the risk of feeling drowsy and disoriented.

That’s why glasses and walking devices should be stored near the bed.

And seniors and family members should consider buying non-skid mats and cover slippery tiles. Night-lights in the bathroom can further increase sight in the dark.

Voisey added that falls don’t only occur inside the house.

In the garden, tools and yard equipment must be safely stored. And frozen pathways should be cleared or covered with sand or salt in the winter.

“And that, of course, goes along with everything in the house, making sure that pathways are cleared up and there’s no clutter,” she said.

Sherry Botti, nurse and clinical educator at Youville Home, a housing and care facility in St. Albert, said most seniors feel stronger in the morning than in the afternoon.

Caregivers and family members should discuss what a senior’s physical ability is throughout the day and what he or she may need to assist their walking.

In the case of a fall, seniors should always see a doctor to assess for any injuries, she stressed.

“One thing they should watch out for are hip fractures, or head injuries,” she said.

“A fracture can be easily dismissed and often seniors have so much adrenalin, they may feel the pain but they don’t notice the swelling.”

Voisey said seniors should consider buying a cane or a walker – not only to aid their agility but to increase their independence.

“We want to make sure that they create independence for themselves and by having a walker or cane, it helps them to be mobile,” she said.

“And if a client at any age is staying active by continuing to walk independently it makes a big difference for their overall well-being.”

Voisey suggested seniors do simple exercises to maintain their muscle power.

To strengthen their back muscles, they can sit on the edge of a chair with a pillow propped against the seat, and slowly lean back and sit up again.

They can also do side-leg raises, using a chair or table for balance.

“They can put their hands on the table and raise one leg to the side, about 20 degrees or whatever is comfortable for them,” she said.

“You hold it up for a second and then lower it. That helps with side muscles and balance. They can do this ten times on each leg.”

During Fall Prevention Week, Nurse Next Door is offering free home safety assessments for seniors in St. Albert to help prevent falls and unneeded visits to hospitals.

Free assessments can be booked by calling 780-737-4323.

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