BY SALLY ANDERSON
I remember getting the call: “Dad fell.” And the sinking feeling that this was the beginning of the end. Unfortunately, I was right and he died five months later due to additional complications. As we all know, a fall can change everything as we age.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), falls are the leading cause of fractures, trauma admissions to hospitals and deaths due to injury among older adults. Falls also represent the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, which are not an easy recovery even if you survive (46 percent are fatal).
Besides the cost of suffering, the economic impact is significant: the NCOA projects that the direct cost of treating falls will reach almost $70 billion by 2020, with a quarter of the hip fracture patients in a nursing home for at least half a year. Here in Minnesota, we have the nation’s fourth-highest rate of fall-related deaths.
Research has identified risk factors that contribute to falling and can be changed or modified to help prevent falls. They include:
• Vitamin D deficiency. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider about taking vitamin D supplements.
• Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants. Even some over-the-counter medicines affect balance. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy, including both prescription medicines and over-the counter medicines.
• Unsafe situations in your home. Be practical and get rid of things you could trip over such as throw rugs and small items that you may not see easily. Make sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs. Have grab bars added inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet, and put hand railings on both sides of stairs. If you need someone to help install these items, call us at Community Thread to see if you are eligible for a chore services volunteer (651-439-7434).
• Weakness in the lower body. Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling. Regular exercise both helps prevent falls and the fear of falling. Do exercises that make your legs stronger and improve your balance. Tai Chi is a good example of this kind of exercise.
Moving for Better Balance is a fall-prevention program that uses the principles and movement of Tai Chi to help older adults improve balance and increase confidence for everyday activities. Starting April 4, Community Thread will be offering the Moving for Better Balance series. This program has been proven to reduce the risk of falling by improving balance, muscle strength, flexibility and mobility through coordinated movements in a slow, flowing motion. Anyone can benefit from this series, even if they use a cane or walker.
The program is led by a trained instructor and focuses on improving functional ability to reduce fall-related risks and frequency. The 12-week, 24-session program builds on traditional Tai Chi by transforming the movements into therapeutic training for balance and integrating the movements into daily functions. The series will be offered twice a week from April 4 to June 30 on Tuesdays and Fridays, 3-4 p.m. at the Community Thread Stillwater Senior Center. At a cost of $4 per class, it is a good investment. Call 651-439-7434 to sign up. It will improve your chances of preventing the injury that changes everything for you and your loved ones.
Sally Anderson is the executive director of Community Thread, a Stillwater-based nonprofit that serves seniors and provides volunteer opportunities. She has a master’s in health administration, and her professional experience includes starting a nonprofit mental health clinic and managing programs that serve aging and disabled populations.