The ice and snow has hit Manitoba and patients are visiting our office with injuries from slipping and falling. According to Public Health Canada, falls are the number one cause of hospital injury in older adults and account for 2 billion dollars in health care costs annually in Canada. Seniors will spend 10 days longer in hospital after a fall over any other cause and 1/3 of them will end up in a long term care facility after a fall. Falls are the cause of 95% of hip fractures. Schnell and Friedman published in the Journal of Geriatric Orthopeadic Surgery and Rehabilitation that seniors have a 21% to 29% chance of death in the first year after a hip fracture!
It is important for everyone, at all ages, to be aware of the risks of falling, and to be proactive about avoiding it. Here are some tips and thoughts on fall prevention:
Make Some Changes at Home
Half of all falls causing hospitalization happen at home. This is the most important area you can change in order to lessen the odds of an injury. Common areas of the home to fall in are the bathroom and kitchen. Spills and slippery surfaces should always be cleaned up immediately. Non-slip mats, hand rails, and a raised toilet seat are a must in the bathroom. Place kitchen items that you use the most in easy-to-reach areas and have heavy items in your lower cupboards. Avoid using a stepping stool, but if needed, have a solid one with a hand rail.
Take a look at the rest of your home for fall hazards such as loose mats, transition zones from carpet to laminate or hardwood, electrical/phone cords, and various types of debris. Proper lighting at night is also essential, especially from the bedroom to the bathroom.
Other tips include: having a spot to sit when putting on footwear, don't rush around the house, always use a handrail on the steps, get up slowly from sitting to avoid dizziness, and keep walkways clear of snow or ice.
Make sure you talk to your pharmacist or doctor about your medications and their side affects. This is more important when you start a new medication, as it might cause dizziness when combined with your current medications. If your medications cause sleepiness or dizziness, plan to take them when you are not active, and be cautious when combining alcohol and medications.
You will be getting tired of me preaching this, but is so important! I feel it is the number one thing a person can do to age well and prevent falls. We loose strength naturally with age but can slow this process with regular exercise and strength training. Exercising 15 minutes a day, or a minimum of 2 hours a week, with resistance exercises using body weight focusing on balance is a must. Exercises will depend on an individual's abilities, and you should never put yourself at risk. Doing wall squats, stair step-ups, step-out lunges, push ups (modified if needed), walking, and stair climbing are simple ways to maintain your strength.
The other important benefit from exercise is balance. There is a direct correlation between how good your balance is and your risk of death. Activities such as yoga and Tai Chi are excellent for balance. In fact, Tai Chi is one of the only activities studied and found to reduce fractures, and is recommended by Osteoporosis Canada. You can also work on balance at home if you don't have access to these activities. Stand facing a corner with your hands against the wall for support, stand on one leg with your eyes open, then switch legs. Try not to use the wall and balance as long as possible. This activity can also be repeated with your eyes closed, or with eyes open and moving your non-weight-bearing leg around to make it more challenging.
Use Safety Aids
Don't be embarrassed to have to use trekking poles, a cane, or a walker. Check your pride at the door, because it will be a lot worse when you need to phone someone to come help you off the floor. Consult your health care provider to ensure you are fitted properly to these mobility aides, and make sure you remove clutter so that you can use a walker or cane at home. When it is icy, purchase anti-skid soles for your shoes and add a spike to the end of your cane.
Falls have a huge impact on our population and the majority of fall can be prevented. It is not only seniors that are at risk, and everyone should take a look at their home for fall hazards. Everyone should also get active and work on balance and strength.
Activity Fact: Single-leg stance test, getting up from a chair without the use of your arms, scissor squat test, and the "get up and go test" are a few balance tests that can be directly related to your chance of death! So it's important to be able move and maintain balance!