Is Falling a Normal Part of Aging?

By Sharon Osborne

Cold weather brings plenty of ice, sleet and snow, making it a challenge for anyone to get around without falling, especially older adults working hard to maintain their independence.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention identifies falls as the most common cause of treatable injury for hospital admissions among older adults.

Learning what you can do to decrease your risk of falling is the first step. The rehabilitation team at St. Ann’s Community recommends doing strength and balance exercises, managing medications correctly, having routine medical and vision check-ups and making safety modifications at your home, inside and out.

• Staying on your feet. When you venture outdoors, uneven surfaces, ice, fine gravel, wet leaves and other hidden dangers can cause you to slip and fall fast and hard. Here’s how to stay safe:

• Take extra time. Leave a few minutes early to get to your destination.

• Wear appropriate footwear. Boots with flat bottoms and visible, heavy treads are best. If you have a foot condition, choose a pair that’s easy to get on and provides a comfortable fit. Get used to wearing your boots before venturing outdoors.

• Bundle up. Wear a winter coat, hat, gloves, and scarf to stay warm and help keep your muscles relaxed for better balance.

• Wear sunglasses. Sun glare from the snow can impair your vision, making it difficult to see uneven or icy surface conditions.

• Keep your hands empty. Don’t carry things, so your hands are free for stabilization and balance.

• Clear your driveway, walkways and steps.

• Be careful getting in and out of cars. Steady yourself on the doorframe and have both feet firmly on the ground before moving. Keep the areas around your vehicle clear, so there are no tripping hazards.

• Choose the best route. Stay on cleared sidewalks and roads instead of taking shortcuts or walking between parked cars. Ask someone to help you with slippery or unsafe paths.

• Stay on level ground. Approach sidewalk cutouts head on, not from an angle. Avoid walking on wet or snow-covered slopes. Watch for potholes and broken concrete.

• Move carefully. To help maintain your balance, take short steps and use handrails, where available.

• Watch out for black ice. Ice is often present on concrete and paved surfaces, especially in shaded areas on a sunny day, and when fluctuating temperatures cause the snow to thaw and refreeze at night.

• Enter buildings carefully. Tracked-in snow and slush can leave floors wet and slippery

• Use walking poles. You’ll stay balanced and get cardiac exercise while you walk.

• You don’t have to go it alone! Support and assistance are right around the corner.

Although one of four older Americans falls each year, less than half tell their doctor.

For safety’s sake, honesty is the best policy, so tell your doctor and your loved ones about a fall. They’re on your side and can help you find ways to avoid injury and maintain your independence as long as possible.

Sharon Osborne is executive director of Transitional Care Center (TCC) and Rehabilitation Services at St. Ann’s, a senior community offering a full continuum of care in Rochester. Email her at sosborne@MyStAnns.com, call 585-697-6483 or visit www.stannscommunity.com.

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