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Facts for All Ages

Make Fall Prevention Part of your Spring Cleaning


A fall can be a life-altering event when it comes to health, well-being and quality of life. Back in February, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Jake Sosnoff of the Illini Fall Prevention Clinic speak. He is such a wealth of knowledge that I wanted to share his knowledge with all of you. This month Dr. Sosnoff has written a gem of an article on falls. I hope you find it as interesting and engaging as I found him in person; now let us hear from Dr. Sosnoff.

Do you know what award-winning author Kurt Vonnegut, actress Ann B. Davis (who played Alice, the housekeeper in Brady Brunch) and Pope Benedict XVI have in common? They all suffered falls. Unfortunately, Mr. Vonnegut and Ms. Davis both passed away due to their injuries. No one would argue that Vonnegut, Davis, and Pope Benedict are in any way typical individuals, however, falls certainly are very common – especially for older adults.

Did you know that falls are the leading cause of accidental injury and death in seniors? Nationally, it is estimated that one out of three seniors over the age of 65 years old will fall in the next year, which will lead to over 750,000 emergency room visits due to fall related injury. The direct medical costs of falls are currently over $30 billion per year. In addition to the physical injury, falls and fear of falling also lead seniors to avoid activities.

Despite all the negativity, there is a silver lining concerning falls. Decades of research makes it clear that they are not inevitable part of aging, but rather are highly preventable. When discussing fall prevention and determining what is the best approach, it is important to keep in mind that everyone has their own unique fall risk profile. Obviously, the best way to prevent falls is to reduce your own risk factors. What is appropriate for you may not be right for your neighbor or friend. Unfortunately, most of us are unaware of our own risk factors. Do you know your fall risk factors?

A local resource that is dedicated to helping you understand your own fall risk is the Illini Fall Prevention Clinic (www.illinifallclinic.com). The Clinic is an outreach effort from the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which utilizes state of the art technology to measure fall risk factors such as walking and balance problems in order to pin point your own challenge areas. The staff of the Clinic will then design a personalized fall prevention plan for you.

Over the last year, the Clinic has screened nearly 100 individuals ranging in age from 37 to 97 years old. Although fall risks factors varied across clients, some common risk factors were observed including being unstable while standing still, poor feeling in their feet, and slow movements. Do these things sound familiar?

Do you find yourself having trouble getting out of a chair? Or do you feel unsteady when you close your eyes (or pull a shirt over your head)? Do you lose your balance when you stand on one foot? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are at an increased risk of falls.

Importantly, there are simple exercises you can do at home to gain some muscle strength and improve your balance. Doing something as simple as standing when commercials are on the TV can lead to improvements in your steadiness. If you need something a little more challenging, there are numerous fitness facilities that offer classes focusing on fall prevention. Another option is the evidence based Matter of Balance program that is promoted by the East Central Illinois Area of Aging Agency.

Regardless of your balance, when is the last time you had your eyes checked or had someone make sure your shoes fit properly? Both uncorrected vision problems and poorly fitted shoes are both fall risk factors. As you spring clean your house, remove those pesky tripping hazards and general clutter. Perhaps the easiest fall prevention change you can make is to get a motion activated night light for the night time trips to the bathroom – it is easier to avoid hazards when we can see them.

Most of us would be glad to have something in common with an award-winning author, famous actress, or the Pope, but a few thoughtful changes can make sure that falls are not one of them.

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