STEP OUT WITH SENIORS:Don’t let little fears trip you up

While in the kitchen putting away dishes, I heard a “thud” from the living room. I discovered Mom had tripped over a footstool and fallen.

Of course, she was embarrassed. When I asked if she had fallen before she told me she had once.

That’s the day she put away the footstool and began to make some changes in her apartment to make it more “fall proof.”

Her fall was purely accidental, but many of us take a tumble because we have not caught on to, or are unable to admit, we are not as steady on our feet as we used to be. Fear of falling is one of the biggest fears we seniors have because we know it can mean the end of our independent style of living.

Some of you reading this column do not consider yourselves to be seniors. However, you should know information compiled by the Washington State Department of Health shows at about age 55 the risk of injury or death following a fall goes up dramatically. Falls are not something that happen to us just in our later years. In addition, the Health Department reports that in recent years falls resulted in nearly 15,000 hospitalizations and more than 400 deaths among Washington residents 65 and older. In addition, Medicare paid millions to treat these injuries.

What makes us more likely to fall as we get older? Among the many reasons are changes in our balance, strength, vision, hearing and flexibility. Also, to be considered are changes in our health conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and heart disease and medications which can cause dizziness along with loss of sensitivity in our hands and feet.

However, the No. 1 cause of falls is fear. So many seniors are afraid of falling they decide not to do anything active in order to protect themselves. This inactivity causes them to become progressively weaker and more likely to lose their balance and fall. So what are we going to do to keep us from falling?

Let’s start with our general health. We are going to make a list of our medications and ask our doctor or pharmacist if any of them have side effects that can cause dizziness, hearing or vision problems or loss of balance. If so, we need to ask our doctor about other medications. We are also going to get our vision and hearing checked to see if we need any help in those areas.

Next on the list is making our home a safe place. You have probably read articles on how to safety  proof your home, so I am going to highlight just a few that I feel are important. You need to have a clear path to get from your kitchen to your living room, to the bathroom and your bedroom. Take up throw rugs – they are dangerous.

Put night lights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways so you can see where you are going at night. Put a bath mat with suction cups on the bottom or your tub and/or shower and buy a step stool with a handrail and use it to reach things up high.

Do everything you can possibly do to get stronger, more flexible and steadier on your feet. The only way to do this is to get moving! If you are unable to leave your home, seek out the two exercise programs designed for you on a local PBS station – “Sit and be Fit” and “Easy Yoga for Arthritis.”

If you are able to get out, find an exercise class at your senior center, fitness center or YMCA. Sometimes, a hospital will offer classes.

Seniors, let’s step out and make our lives better.

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