Avoid Falls!
Aug 12, 2005 - 12:25:38 AM

Whether it is caused by a wet floor, slippery throw rug, loose cord or objects in the wrong spot, falls in the home happen. The truth is, falls are not only the most common cause of injury among American adults age 65 and over, but are also the leading cause of death in the home, according to the National Safety Council. One in three adults over age 65 falls every year, and 90 percent of the 350,000 hip fractures that occur in the U.S. each year are the result of a fall. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), fall-related injuries can be reduced by removing clutter and items from the home, learning how to fall properly, and performing exercises that strengthen muscles and improve balance.

"It can take just one fall to lead to the loss of a person's independence and mobility," explained Richard F. Kyle, MD, first vice president of AAOS. "It is important to minimize obstacles in the home that often contribute to slips and falls. When simple safety measures are put in place, these mishaps can decrease significantly."

AAOS recommends following the below home safety checklist to fall-proof your home:

-- Get rid of clutter. Don't pile up items on the floor, stairway or pathways between rooms.

-- Keep appliance, lamp and telephone cords out of areas where you walk. Don't put them under rugs.

-- Use a rubber mat or put adhesive texture strips on the bottom of the tub or shower. Install grab bars on the walls for additional support. Place a slip-resistant rug on tile floor to safely get in and out of the bathtub.

-- Attach non-slip treads to bare-wood steps, and remove small area rugs at the top and bottom of stairs.

-- Good lighting is essential, so it is important to install glow-in-the-dark light switches at both the top and bottom of stairways. Also, place a night-light along the route between the bedroom and bathroom.

-- Keep a flashlight and new batteries by the bed in case of a power outage.

-- Clean up spills in the kitchen immediately. Use a step stool or low stepladder -- not chairs or boxes -- to reach items in upper cabinets. Use non-skid wax on the kitchen floor.

-- Wear proper footwear around the home and outside. Never walk around in stocking feet. Consider sneakers and shoes with laces. Avoid higher heels or platform shoes.

Of course, even the most careful people are still susceptible to trips and falls. With that in mind, there are "correct" ways to fall to minimize potential injury. Below are some recommended techniques to follow if you cannot prevent a slip or fall:

-- If possible, try to fall on your side or buttocks. Roll over naturally, turning your head in the direction of the roll.

-- Keep your wrists, elbows and knees bent. Do not try to break the fall with your hands or elbows.

-- Take several deep breaths after falling. If you feel you have suffered an injury, do not try to get up. Call 911 or a family member for help.

-- If you feel you are not injured and are able to get up, crawl to a strong, stable piece of furniture, like a chair, that you can use as a support to help pull yourself up. Place both hands on the seat.

-- Slowly begin to raise yourself up. Bend whichever knee is stronger, keeping the other knee on the floor. Finally, slowly twist and sit in the chair.

The Academy recommends that everyone, especially seniors, get regular physical check-ups. A healthcare provider may discover problems that can make someone more prone to falling. A provider can also monitor side effects from any prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, such as sleep aids, that might affect balance. People of all ages can reduce their risk of falls through regular exercise, as even moderate physical activity can help maintain strength, coordination, agility and balance. Exercises that improve balance and coordination are the most beneficial. A sedentary lifestyle -- at any age -- leads to weakness and increased chances of falling.

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