Dr Zorba Paster: Staying Fall Free
Only the leaves should fall. This is a good slogan for an event I attend every year trying to keep people – especially people over 65, a group that I am a part of – healthy, alive, safe and free from falls. .
When you are young, falling is not a big deal. Penny and I have five grandchildren now. When they visit us, frolic in the garden, they fall all the time, whether it’s soccer, tagging or just being a kid.
When they fall, they bounce; when we fall, we break. Big difference. For an older person, a fall can mean assisted living for the rest of their life, or even death. One in four older people who fall die within two years. It’s not because of the fall, but because of the complications of a sedentary lifestyle – pneumonia, urinary tract infections, the kinds of things that kill you when you’re sedentary.
A fall can turn those golden years into years of lead. You don’t want this if you are a senior, so now is the time to take steps to make your life fall free. You need to look at the things you can do to make things safer. So, folks, get out some pencil and some paper and get ready to make a list. Or if you are a technician, do it on your phone.
Do you have night lights around the house so that when nature calls you at night, you don’t stumble in the dark and fall? Are you safe in the shower? Do you need grab bars – good grab bars? What about a shower chair with arms? Do you have non-slip shower shoes? The bathroom is the most common place for serious accidents. Who wants to die near the toilet? Yuck.
Do you have rugs around the house? You can easily run into it. They may seem pleasant to you, but not pleasant to your body. You may need to throw them away or put them away so they don’t become a trip hazard.
And while you’re at it, check your stairs. Are there strong railings on both sides to help stabilize you on your way up and down? You know what my mother said, “Two railings are better than one.” In fact, she never said that because we lived in a two-level apartment with only five stairs to go up and five to go down. But it’s still true.
And the outdoor spaces? Are they well lit with safe steps? We just installed new LED bulbs to light up things around our house. You can also. These puppies last a long time, and you’ll save a lot of electricity – around $ 10 to $ 15 per month compared to incandescent puppies.
I suggest you shop around and change all of your lights as soon as you see those LED bulbs on sale, which they do all the time. Go through every space you visit in your home life – indoors and out – and check off what you might need to protect your home from adults.
When it comes to falls, it makes sense that balance is an issue. If you are wobbly, you may need an assistive device such as a cane or a walker. Or you might just need to take a tai chi class or a similar class, maybe yoga, to improve your balance.
There may be a community outreach program in your area, just like ours. It might not be called “Only the Leaves Should Fall” like ours, but it would be beneficial nonetheless. It is worth finding out what is available by calling the senior centers in your area. Learning to balance can make a big difference in your life.
Oh, and I almost forgot one more step. There are some among us who need a walker or a cane and do not use them. Why? Because they are too stubborn, or they don’t think they need it. Or, more likely, they are too pointless.
I have patients every day in my office who are wobbling and I ask them if they need a cane or a walker. They often reply that it is at home. Wow. It will do you a lot of good there. If you need it, get it. If you have one, use it. If you’re wondering if you would benefit from it, you probably would.
My opinion: Last year alone, 30,000 seniors in the United States died from falls, a 30% increase from 2007. Now is the time to act – action you can take without one. quota. Stay well.
Dr Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio show “Zorba Paster on Your Health”. He can be contacted at [email protected]