Falls in seniors a vicious cycle

Every year, the National Council on Aging recognizes Fall Prevention Day on Sept. 23 — the first day of fall.

The statistics can be surprising. According to the National Safety Council, deadly falls in seniors are up 112 percent since 1999. Sheboygan County has not escaped this statistic with 37 senior fall deaths in 2012 compared to eight in 2008.

The CDC reports that one in three seniors will fall this year. Many are harmless, but one in five will end up seeking medical care. Hip fractures and head injuries are not uncommon and the leading cause of injury death for older adults. But behind the numbers is the human cost. Many who have had an injury from falling limit their activities, which can put them at a higher risk of falling. It is a vicious cycle.

Most falls are preventable, and we all have a part we can play. The medical field must assess for fall risk in our elderly population and steer them toward resources that will keep them safe. Among these resources are exercise classes offered around the county. Group exercise is a great way to stay fit and connected. Home Care Medical offers free home assessments and will recommend tips to make the home safer. Stepping On is a fall prevention workshop that is offered several times each year through the Aging and Disability Resource Center.

Home owners can assess their property for tripping hazards and lighting. It is important to have walkways shoveled and salted, if necessary.

Those of us who care for elders have a special responsibility to assess their environment for fall hazards. Typical fall hazards include pathways that have clutter or furniture in the way and stairs without proper lighting or handrails. Are there light-sensitive nightlights that show the way to the bathroom? Monitor them after a new medication is started or a medication dose is changed. Offer to go for a walk with them. Make sure they are not doing risky activities like changing their own ceiling light bulbs. Be available to them for such emergencies. Check in often, even if it is by phone.

As we age, it is important to monitor ourselves for signs that we are at increased risk of falling. Do you feel weaker or more unsteady than you did one year ago? Do you take medication that is making you feel drowsy or lightheaded? Are you becoming less active? Do you drink more than one alcoholic drink in a day? Do you have trouble stepping up onto a curb? Do you have to rush to the toilet? All of these might be fixable and are important to talk to your doctor about. Early, small changes in your surroundings or your habits can make a big difference in your fall risk.

Many opportunities exist in our county to decrease your risk of falling. The week of Sept. 21 will have four different events in the county that will focus on fall prevention. The Senior Activity Center of Sheboygan, Sheboygan Memorial Hospital, Plymouth Generations and St. Nicholas Hospital will host the events.

Call the Aging and Disability Resource Center at 920-467-4142 for more information and to register. See you there.

Annette Selk is a nurse for the Sheboygan County Aging and Disability Resource Center and Department of Public Health.