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K-State expert gives tips on preventing falls, injuries in older adults

By Nancy Peterson

 

A proactive approach to health and physical activity can reduce the risks of accident and injury, including falls, that can cause a loss of mobility and independence and increase the risk of a premature death in older adults, said Debra Sellers, Kansas State University Research and Extension specialist on adult development and aging.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reports that one in three adults ages 65 and older fall each year. In 2002, nearly 13,000 people ages 65 and older died from a fall-related injury.

From 90 to 95 percent of older adults who break a hip do so in a fall, Sellers said. Twenty-five percent of older adults who break a hip typically die from complications such as pneumonia within six months.

The natural aging process -- changes in vision, loss of muscle tone, coordination or flexibility, and bones that become more brittle with each year -- can make older adults more vulnerable than the general population, she said.

Sellers offered the following tips to reduce the risk of falling. The tips were drawn from a panel discussion with representatives from the American Geriatrics Society, British Geriatrics Society and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

* Ask your health care provider for what Sellers calls a "fall assessment," which typically tests balance and assesses walking style or "gait," and if a fall prevention program or clinic is available in your community. If not, ask how you might help develop such a program or clinic. If your health care provider recommends using a cane or walker for added stability, use it.

* Make a commitment to exercise, either individually or with a group, to maintain, strengthen and improve muscle tone, flexibility and balance.

* Review medications at least annually, as side effects from prescribed or over-the-counter medications can impair senses and increase risks of accident and injury.

* Make changes in the home. Eliminate clutter, remove throw rugs, and install grab bars by the toilet, shower and bath tub. Use non-skid mats in the shower and tub, use night lights, and install a bedside telephone if you don't already have one.

* Leave some tasks, such as cleaning the gutters or climbing a ladder to change a light bulb, to a professional, Sellers said.

For more information on developing a proactive lifestyle as you age, contact the county or district K-State Research and Extension office or visit Extension's Web site: http://www.oznet.ksu.edu

 

Fall/Winter 2006