Dangerous falls are on the rise, but you can help

The advice the Office for the Aging provides for older adults and their caregivers isn’t necessarily carved in stone. When new evidence emerges to challenge the original advice, we adjust our advice accordingly — as is the case with the past few years’ findings on injuries and deaths caused by falls among older adults.

Fatal falls among older adults have doubled since 2000, rising across all ethnic groups, according to data released this year by Pennsylvania State University. The increase in deaths and injuries is happening even though seniors are typically advised to exercise more, have their vision checked, cut back on sleep medications when possible, and install grab bars in bathrooms and other areas of potential risk.

So what’s going wrong?

One thing we’ve learned is that the advice mentioned above needs to be tailored to individuals so that they’re more likely to act on the advice and take whatever additional fall prevention steps are necessary. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health scientists note that older adults are living longer with conditions that used to be fatal, and that more older adults are taking medications that can affect brain function and balance, such as opioids. Both these factors can contribute to falls.

One truth remains: Falls are not inevitable as you age.

One excellent preventive step you can take is to sign up for OFA “A Matter of Balance” classes, now registering seniors for eight-week sessions, with classes held once a week at locations throughout Dutchess County. The evidence-based “A Matter of Balance” program is ideal for you if you are a resident of Dutchess County, age 60 or more and ambulatory, and you’d like to maximize the likelihood that you’ll be able to live independently in your own home for as long as possible.

You can sign up for “A Matter of Balance” by calling the Office for the Aging at 845-486-2555. Outside the 845 area code, our toll-free number is 866-486-2555. Classes fill up quickly. If it turns out that your preferred “A Matter of Balance” is fully booked, visit www.dutchessny.-gov/-seniorexercise to look at OFA’s other fitness options.

Other steps you can take include asking your medical providers about how to receive a comprehensive fall risk assessment, recommended by both CDC and the American Geriatrics Society.

Such an assessment becomes increasingly necessary in the case of those at the highest risk for falls — that is, older adults who have already fallen more than once or sought medical attention for falls.

A fall-risk assessment should cover all the issues that can contribute to falls: gait, lower-body strength, balance, medication, vision, home environment, and blood pressure measure when getting up from a seated position.

What else can you do in the meantime to prevent falls? That’ll be the topic of next week’s column.

 

Golden Living is prepared by the Dutchess County Office for the Aging, Todd N. Tancredi, director. Email him at ofa@dutchessny.gov.

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