Preventing Falls This Winter
By Marty O’Shea, Owner, PT
50% of all accidental deaths that occur at home are related to falling.
25% of all work related injuries are fall related.
The older generation is most vulnerable; 33% of people 65 or older will experience at least 1 fall over the next year.
Unfortunately, as the temperature drops and we enter the grips of winter, falling on ice becomes more prevalent. Most people are aware of the dangers of falls on icy surfaces, but what they don’t realize is that falls that result in injury are an all too common occurrence throughout the entire year, not just during the winter due to the bad weather conditions.
As a physical therapist, too frequently I have had to help people through the progress of recovering from the multiple injuries that have occurred as a result of a fall. It is important to know some of the reasons for falling as well as the possible steps that can be taken to reduce the risks of falling.
There are 2 main reasons for falling.
1 – The environment in which you live causing you to slip (icy surfaces, wet floors etc) or trip over objects such as rugs, cords, pets or toys etc. The best way to prevent slips and falls is to inspect your house or workplace for any of these above obstacles and try to remove them, if possible, or place them in less traveled areas. In the case of slippery surfaces, try to take steps to maintain traction on the surface. Reduce slipping by salting icy surfaces and/or adding no-slip pads to areas that frequently can become wet. This is especially important for seniors, as their balance, reactions, vision and overall strength can reduce their ability to maneuver around such impediments.
2 – Loss of balance is the most prevalent with senior citizens. Balance is controlled by multiple systems in our body, all of which are susceptible to the aging process. The 3 main systems that contribute to balance are our vision, our inner ear (vestibular symptoms) and our sense of touch (feeling the ground under our feet). These systems can be affected by a variety of reasons including side effects from medications or other diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and often can be managed by your physician. Be sure to consult your doctor in cases where you are experiencing a loss of hearing or sense of balance. In some cases, other services such as physical therapy or an optical exam can help you discover loss of function in one of these systems, or at least teach you some strategies to compensate for loss of function by maximizing function in the other 2 systems. Having your vision checked regularly, using an ambulatory aid such as a cane, and generally maintaining an active life style can help you to overcome some of your balance deficits.
Hopefully this will give you some ideas as to how to reduce the risk of falling, and start you on the way to a happy and healthy 2016!