Helping older populations reduce their risk for falls

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Published Monday, September 19, 2022
by Mike Moen

(Greater Dakota News Service) From COVID infections to dangerously hot weather, older people have had a lot of warnings the past couple of years to adhere to. But experts say these individuals also need to be mindful of injury risks in the home. 

This week is Falls Prevention Awareness Week, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one fourth of Americans 65 and older experience a fall each year. 

Leacey Brown is a gerontology field specialist at the South Dakota State University Extension Service, who said getting older adults to report what happened is part of the challenge.  

"Older adults are afraid to tell anyone that they're experiencing falls," said Brown, "because they might get placed in a facility or taken out of their home."

Experts say as a person ages, their muscles start to weaken and their balance isn't always as steady. Having to rely more on prescription drugs for a chronic illness could be another fall risk factor. 

The National Council on Aging says reviewing medication usage with your doctor could help, along with strength and balance programs. Hiring someone to add grab bars and better lighting in the home is suggested, too.

Associate Director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the National Council on Aging, Jennifer Tripken, said it shouldn't be accepted that this is a normal part of the aging process - and that individuals should feel empowered to take action, if there are warning signs.

"There's a lot of different reasons why someone falls," said Tripken. "The good news is there's a lot of different things that we can do to offset and minimize those risks."

Another option is a free online assessment on the Council's website, which offers a falls risk score and resources to prevent falls. 

Meanwhile, Brown said in a rural state such as South Dakota, it might be harder to locate a home modification professional - but there are options to turn to.

"The 211 Helpline Center," said Brown, "they have a database that has some of the home modification providers listed. Dakota at Home is another service that somebody living in a rural community could contact."

She added that families and caretakers shouldn't rush to move a loved one out of their home after a fall, and prevention efforts should be tried first if the situation allows.

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