Falls Prevention Awareness Week marked: UPCAP spreads word, shares safety tips | News, Sports, Jobs

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MARQUETTE — The National Council on Aging has proclaimed Sept. 21-25 as Falls Prevention Awareness Week and the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress is doing its part to spread the message locally.

Officials say this is critical, as one in four older adults suffer falls each year, making falling the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for the 65-and-older demographic.

The World Health Organization estimates 646,000 people die from falls per year, with falling being the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide.

Falls almost always pose the risk for injury, but even those who escape a fall unscathed may still suffer from depression or fear of falling again, which can make them more cautious and less active.

Due to this, UPCAP is spreading the word that most falls are preventable. People can look for specific warning signs and take necessary precautions to protect their loved ones from becoming victim to a fall, officials say.

UPCAP says there are five fall risk factors to look out for as someone ages: their balance and gait, vision, medications, environment and chronic conditions.

As people grow older and become less active, they often lose coordination, flexibility and balance over time, making older adults more at risk for falling. Aging eyes make potential hazards and other obstacles harder to see, while prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness or other interactions with one another.

Furthermore, people who have lived in the same home or space for many years may not have considered taking preventive measures in their living space to reduce their risk of falling.

Chronic conditions tie the aforementioned items together. More than 90% of older adults suffer from a chronic condition according to UPCAP, which increases the risk of a fall due to loss of function, inactivity, pain or taking medications.

UPCAP also lists six easy steps to prevent your older loved one or yourself from suffering a fall.

Each of the six steps centers around talking and observing. The first step, UPCAP officials say, is to enlist your loved one’s support in taking the necessary steps to reduce the risk of falling.

“Ask if they’re concerned about falling,” UPCAP officials said in a press release. “Many older adults know that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt, even if they’ve already fallen in the past. If they’re concerned about falling, dizziness or balance, suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider, who can assess their personal risk and suggest programs or services that could help.”

The second step is to discuss any current health conditions the person may have.

“Find out if they’re experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications, or are they experiencing side effects? Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily? Are hearing and vision changes becoming problematic?

“Take advantage of all the preventive benefits now offered under Medicare, such as the annual wellness visit, which reviews their functional ability, level of safety and fall risk assessment.”

Step three regards discussing your loved one’s vision.

“Ask about their last eye checkup. If they wear glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and are wearing the glasses as intended. Remember, tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from the bright sun into darkened buildings and homes. A simple strategy is to stop until the lenses adjust. Bifocals can be problematic on stairs, so be cautious.”

If your loved one tends to hold onto something in their house in order to get up or walk around, those are also signs of being at risk for a fall. Step four is to look for these signs and potentially see a physical therapist.

“Notice if they hold onto walls, furniture or someone else when walking or appear to have difficulty getting up from a chair. These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist.

“A trained physical therapist can help improve their balance, strength and gait through exercise. They might also suggest a cane or walker and provide guidance on proper use of these aids. Poorly fit aids can actually increase the risk of falling.”

Medications are important to monitor, as they can cause side effects, such as dizziness, that make the risk of falling greater.

“Talk about their medications,” step five says. “If they have a hard time keeping track of medicines or are experiencing side effects, discuss these concerns with their doctor and pharmacist. Beware of nonprescription medications that contain sleep aids, including painkillers with ‘PM’ in the name. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness. Have them talk to their doctor or pharmacist about safer alternatives.”

The sixth and final step to reduce the risk of falling is to conduct a safety assessment of the person’s home. Many easy changes can be made to reduce the risk of falling and making those changes can be very inexpensive.

For example, people increase lighting throughout the home, especially within the stairwell. Lighting should be available and easy to reach, especially if the person needs to get up in the middle of the night. According to the release, adults aged 65 and over need an average of two to three times more light to see than when they were younger.

Secured handrails should also be installed in any stairwells and people should watch for any tears in the carpeting or other tripping hazards.

Bathrooms can also be equipped with grab bars and for those at higher risk, UPCAP officials recommend using a shower chair or hand-held shower head.

UPCAP provides free local programming, workshops and resources regarding fall prevention through the organization’s U.P. Regional Area Agency on Aging.

UPAAA officials advocate for and provide services to older adults residing in the U.P. so they can lead independent, meaningful and dignified lives in their own homes and communities for as long as possible, according to UPCAP’s website.

For more information, visit www.upcap.org or dial 211 for UPCAP’s U.P. call center, which provides information and assistance to U.P. citizens and families in need 24/7.

For more information on the National Council of Aging or the World Health Organization, visit www.ncoa.org/FallsPrevention or www.who.int.

Information on falls prevention is also provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC offers a home assessment checklist, which can be found by going to www.cdc.gov and searching “falls checklist.”

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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