The National Council on Aging announced its Falls Prevention Week this month, an awareness event to help families with older adults be better informed about fall risks and fully equipped to take actions to prevent falls. In support of this, the Aging Life Care Association is focusing on fall risks to help seniors and those who care about them, and the University of Missouri Department of Nutrition and Exercise offers its eight-week “Stay Strong, Stay Healthy” program, a strength and flexibility program for seniors.
Awareness is key to preventing falls: 1 in 4 persons age 65 and older falls every year in the US. The NCOA also reports that every 13 seconds “an older adult is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury.” Adding to that, the US Center for Disease Control reports that 3 million older adults are treated in emergency rooms as a result of falls and 300,000 are hospitalized because of head or hip fracture.
As the NCOA insists, however, falling is NOT a normal part of aging.
That’s worth repeating: falling is NOT a normal part of aging.
To assist with fall prevention, the National Council on Aging is offering a free falls “check-up” on its web site here.
While falls in the senior population are generally considered high risk events- due to potential injuries such as immobilizing hip fractures, and life-threatening head injuries, the treatment and care becomes further complicated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Care givers and family members might be hampered in rendering care, but, worse, any hospital visit is a further health risk due to potential exposure to COVID-19, most especially for a senior. If that senior then needs to go to a long-term care facility once discharged from hospital, such as with a hip fracture as result of a fall, there is yet more additional risk of COVID-19 exposure. Consider the fact, as well, that even a simple wrist fracture sustained in process of attempting to break a fall can render a senior who lives alone (and without issue) suddenly needy of the type of care only a temporary full time care giver or rehabilitation facility can provide. Preventing falls further becomes important due to additional expense as well as harm.
The National Council on Aging’s Falls Prevention Resource Center offers these six steps to prevent falls:
- Find a good balance and exercise program; Look to build balance, strength, and flexibility. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for referrals. Find a program you like and take a friend
- Talk to your health care provider- and request an assessment of your risk for falling. Share your history of recent falls.
- Regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist Make sure side effects aren’t increasing your risk of falling. Take medications only as prescribed.
- Get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eyeglasses Your eyes and ears are key to keeping you on your feet.
- Keep your home safe Remove tripping hazards, increase lighting, make stairs safe, and install grab bars in key areas.
- Talk to your family members Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Falls are not just a seniors’ issue. *
The physical risks in falls, themselves are serious. Then there is COVID. And then there are other, non-tangible risks that can arise due to the quarantining that might be required: seniors feeling “imprisoned” with an injury can become disconsolate, fearful and depressed. None of these effectively assists in healing. Social isolation during this time of pandemic, in itself, has been found to be very debilitating for anyone. But we’re beginning to see articles like “How Social Isolation Stole My Mom,” and those with aging parents, and who are perhaps truly desirous of living out Deuteronomy 5:16, now have more resources available to them than might be realized.
The ALCA believes that falls can be greatly reduced by engaging an Aging Life Care Manager. These specially trained individuals can evaluate living space and identify and remove common hazards and suggest additions that will improve lighting and other physical supports (grab bars, for example). These professionals also work with primary care physicians and other specialists to coordinate the spectrum of care required in prevention (exercise programs, for example) and even post-injury (navigating the care system).
Liz Barlowe, Aging Life Care Association Board President and Manager for over 25 years, gives this advice to those caring for seniors with balance and gait challenges: “Talk with your healthcare provider, exercise to improve balance and increase strength, (optimize) hydration and nutrition, make your home safer – inside and out, and have good footwear.”
The University of Missouri has another suggestion: get moving- but in the right ways and with an appropriate support system. The UM Department of Nutrition and Exercise reports that only 9.7% of Americans older than 65 are doing enough regular strength training. Their recommendation is to train at least two days per week. To help make this an easy-to-accomplish goal, UM Orthopaedic Surgery Fellow Breanne Baker has developed an eight-week “Stay Strong, Stay Healthy” program for seniors 65 and older. This program has been around for about 14 years and has served over 15,000 seniors in five states in the US and has, over time, reported “anecdotal success.” However, Steve Ball, professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise at UM, recently put together a team to take a close evidence-based look at the program by tracking data and observing seven key markers of assessment in strength and flexibility improvement. The test group included 60 sedentary participants over the age of 60. The overall findings were very positive, notably including the fact that fall risk was reduced and confidence was increased- a double win.
“Many of our participants reported that after completing the program, they were more confident to go out and do other activities,” Baker said. “Prior to the study, these were all sedentary people, but after engaging in the 8-week (“Stay Strong, Stay Healthy“) program , they were doing other things that the other groups were not, like walking the dog and gardening.”
The results of the study- bearing out improved flexibility, increased muscle strength, and better balance- were published in Journal of Aging and Health. One side benefit was improvement in sleep quality. Baker and Ball look forward to expansion of the program via training leaders who can set up similar programs across the country. “Stay Strong, Stay Healthy” is definitely a game-changer for any senior seeking to stay fit and avoid falls. To find a program near you, visit here.
*Taken directly from the National Council on Aging‘s Fall Prevention Resource Center site.
**Taken directly from the Center for Disease Control web site.
Title photo credit: Susan English, Aging Wisdom
Six Steps to Prevent a Fall video from National Council on Aging’s web site
University of Missouri “Stay Strong, Stay Healthy” image of test group and video used with permission of UM publicity department.
About the National Council on Aging (https://www.ncoa.org/about-ncoa/)
We’re a respected national leader and trusted partner to help people aged 60+ meet the challenges of aging. We partner with nonprofit organizations, government, and business to provide innovative community programs and services, online help, and advocacy. Our Vision: A just and caring society in which each of us, as we age, lives with dignity, purpose, and security. Our Mission: Improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling. Our Social Impact Goal: Improve the health and economic security of 40 million older adults by 2030.
About the Aging Life Care Association® (https://www.aginglifecare.org/)
Aging Life Care Association® was formed in 1985 to advance dignified, coordinated care for older adults in the United States. Founded by and handful of women entrepreneurs in the social work and nursing fields, the Association has grown to over 2000 members nationwide, who have cared for about two million older adults over its 35-year history. Members have extensive training and experience working with older adults, people with disabilities, and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. Members must meet stringent education, experience, and certification requirements. Members may be trained in any of number of fields related to long-term care, including nursing, social work, and other allied health professions with a specialized focus on issues related to aging. All members are required to adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. Aging Life Care™ and the role of care providers have captured a national spotlight with the onset of the global pandemic, and as generations of Baby Boomers age in the United States and abroad. For more information or to access a nationwide directory of Aging Life Care Professionals, please visit here.