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Published: Sunday, 9/23/2012

Some simple steps to help prevent falls

Based on data from the Ohio Departments of Aging and Health, among Ohioans age 65 and older in 2010: there were 964 deaths from falls, which is about three per day; 16,636 hospitalizations, or two hospitalizations every hour; 66,421 emergency room visits, or eight ER visits every hour; 105,009 injuries from falls, or one injury every five minutes, and 291,693 elderly persons who fell, which means a senior citizen fell every two minutes.

The state Injury Prevention Partnership mentions falls among the elderly as the first area to receive special attention in its bylaws. Apparently senior citizens fall so often that people thinks it is a natural part of aging.

"A misconception is that falling is a part of aging," said Natalie Leland, as assistant professor of occupational therapy at the University of Southern California.

An Ohio Department of Health report states emphatically that "Falls are not a normal part of aging."

Exercise is vital in reducing the risk of falling.

"Older people in particular, and everybody, wants to stay fit and active so your body can react to a fall in progress," said Karen Smith, of the American Occupational Therapy Association in Washington.

Among the exercise programs she cites for senior citizens are tai chi, Stepping On, and Matter of Balance.

"Some have lay leaders and some have professionals," Ms. Smith said. "Tai chi is gaining a lot of popularity and is effective in prevention of falls."

Meanwhile, Ohio aging and public health agencies and advocates list five steps on the Ohio.gov Web site that addresses fall prevention awareness. Though information on the www.healthyohioprogram.org Web site is directed to the elderly, everyone can benefit from employing these simple measures.

1. Increase your physical activity. Simple exercise, like walking or swimming at least 15 minutes a day, can help build muscle strength and improve balance, which can prevent falls. Exercise programs such as tai chi that increase strength and improve balance are especially good.

2. See your eye doctor once each year. Age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy, can increase the risk of falling. Early detection is key to minimizing the effects of these conditions.

3. Review your medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the medicines you are taking and whether they may cause drowsiness or dizziness. Discuss things you can do to ensure you are taking your medicines safely.

4. Remove environmental hazards. Look around the house for anything that could increase the risk of falls, including poor lighting, loose rugs, slippery floors, and unsteady furniture. Remove or modify these hazards.

5. Think, plan, and slow down. Many falls are caused by hurrying. Slow down and think through the task you are performing. Be mindful of possible fall risks and act accordingly.



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