National Fall Prevention Awareness Day Sept. 23

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By Molly Moser

September 23 is the first day of fall – and it’s also National Fall Prevention Awareness Day. While falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injury for people 65 years of age and older, they are not an inevitable part of aging. That’s why the Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging is joining forces with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the Falls Free® Coalition to take a stand to prevent falls. 

“If a person falls once, the likelihood of falling again significantly increases.  Fatalities and injuries caused by falls are dramatically increasing as the older population grows,” says Betty Ransom, community services director for the Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging. 

“As we get older we experience changes in strength, flexibility and balance, each of which can contribute to falls. These changes are caused by many different things, such as stiff and painful joints, physical conditions and medications that cause dizziness, slower response rates, etc. The good news is that falls are often preventable. By becoming more aware of the physical and environmental causes, we can take steps to reduce the possibilities of falling.  Informed elders are better able to make personal lifestyle changes and to change risky behaviors and  lessen hazards in the home. One proven way to stave off falls is to increase physical activity.

“National Falls Prevention Awareness Day helps spotlight fall risks and ways to avoid falls, and, hopefully, motivate people to make positive changes that will prevent falls and minimize injuries caused by falls,” said Ransom.

Ransom coached Guttenberg resident Ammi Hugo in an eight-hour training course for teachers of A Matter of Balance, a class that emphasizes practical strategies to reduce fear of falling and increase activity levels.

“Not until I attended the class and a recent symposium in Waterloo did I realize that falls were such a serious problem for seniors. More that 80% of emergency room visits by seniors older than 65 are fall related,” Hugo told The Press. “I thought that was a very shocking statistic.”

The statistics are staggering. Not only are falls common, they are costly. In 2013, the total cost of all fall injuries was $34 billion – an amount projected to increase to over $60 billion by 2020. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls result in more than 21,700 deaths annually. With or without injury, falls weigh heavily on quality of life; fear of falling may result in older adults limiting their activity and social engagements, which can lead to further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness.

Studies show that a combination of behavior changes can significantly reduce falls among older adults. Experts recommend:

•Participating in a physical activity regimen with balance, strength training, and flexibility components, such as Tai Chi or other community-based programs.

•Consulting with a health professional about getting a fall risk assessment.

•Having medications reviewed periodically.

•Getting eyes and ears checked annually.

•Making sure the home environment is safe and supportive by improving lighting, adding rails and grab bars, removing rugs or other tripping hazards, and wearing shoes indoors with good support and non-slip tread.

The recent United States of Aging Survey polled older adults to find out about how they are preparing for their later years. It found that more than half of seniors questioned said they would be interested in the expansion of community-based health promotion programs, including falls prevention classes.

At senior centers and other community-based organizations across the United States, programs like A Matter of Balance, Tai Chi, and Stepping On help older adults gain strength, improve balance, and build confidence to help them live healthier lives and preserve their independence. Look for A Matter of Balance classes in Guttenberg next month. 

For more information on fall prevention please visit: www.ncoa.org.

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