Chapel Hill: Opinion

August 16, 2014

Aging in community: Stay active to help prevent falls

The reality is: falls are relatively common among older adults.

The reality is: falls are relatively common among older adults.

The good news is: some falls and injuries resulting from falls can be prevented.

The bottom line is: staying active helps to not only decrease falls risk but may also result in less serious injury when a fall happens.

According to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( cdc.gov), one in three people over the age of 65 falls each year. While slips and trips occur for most people in the course of everyday life, falls are of particular concern as we age due to the combination of a variety of factors that can lead to injury, long-term disability, or in some cases death.

There are several categories of risks for falls, including personal factors such as vision and balance, environmental factors such as obstacles in the home or community, and more temporary factors such as the use of some medications, or unsafe footwear. Most adults will be exposed to situations throughout our lives that present a high risk for falls. How we prepare for those situations may be the deciding factor in both preventing and recovering from a fall.

One of the most important personal behaviors to reduce falls risk and injury from a fall is staying active.

Maintaining physical flexibility and strength provides us with greater ability to react when confronted with a potential fall as well as get moving again following a fall. Even when our body’s ability to function has been compromised by illness or disability, there are strategies to prevent falls and the resulting injuries.

For other strategies to prevent falls, the National Institutes for Health ( nihseniorhealth.gov) recommends routine vision checks, reviewing medications with your physician or pharmacist, evaluating your home for falls risks, and choosing footwear appropriate to the situation as approaches that can make a difference. Fortunately, in Orange County there are resources to help implement these strategies.

In September of 2013, Orange County launched the Stay Up & Active program as a collaborative effort between the departments of Aging and Emergency Services, in conjunction with several Centers and programs at UNC-Chapel Hill. Older adults who call EMS due to a fall have the opportunity to receive a follow-up screening from an EMS technician who focuses on fall prevention, and, if desired, a further consultation with an occupational therapist and social work team from the Department on Aging. Recommendations from these consultations may include home modifications, connections to opportunities for social and physical activity, and referrals to health care providers for specific interventions.

Even before a fall occurs, consultation is available from either of these county agencies to assist older adults in preventing and preparing for a fall. For more information contact the Department on Aging at 919-968-2087 or Emergency Services at 919-245-6133. Meanwhile, stay up and active in your daily life!

Jenny Womack is a consulting occupational therapist with the Orange County Department on Aging.

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