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Fall Prevention Awareness Month: Increase Exercise to Reduce Risk

While a cane can help stabilize older North Carolinians and reduce the risk of falling, balance exercises and clearing a home of unnecessary clutter also can help. Credit: all110/morguefile.com
While a cane can help stabilize older North Carolinians and reduce the risk of falling, balance exercises and clearing a home of unnecessary clutter also can help. Credit: all110/morguefile.com
September 11, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. - One of the biggest risks to North Carolina seniors can be tripping hazards found in their own homes. An estimated one in three people age 65 or older takes a major, unexpected tumble at least once a year.

September is Falls Prevention Awareness Month, and while clearing a home of unnecessary clutter is one method of protection, a fall-risk evaluation includes a person's gait and balance, his or her health conditions, medications and home environment.

Getting an older relative or friend to agree to this checkup can be a challenge, said Dr. Sascha Dublin, an nternal-medicine physician and investigator at Group Health Reseach Institute. She added, however, that it's important to try.

"One of the things I find my patients are particularly responsive to is, there may be things they really don't want to work on," she said, "but when I talk about how important is it to you to stay in your own home and stay independent, they're often really highly motivated to do things that will let them stay independent as long as possible."

Dublin said people who use balancing aids such as canes or walkers often need a little training to use them correctly, and may be using a hand-me-down piece of equipment that isn't the right size or height and can put them at greater risk of a fall. Among seniors who take a major fall, Dublin said, two-thirds will fall again within six months.

Group Health recommends preventive steps including exercise as people age - not just any exercise, but those that can improve strength, balance and coordination. Tai Chi is at the top of Dublin's list, but there are others.

"Many people don't realize how much improvement they may be able to get with becoming more physically active," she said. "So, for instance, there have been randomized trials that took 90-year-olds to do very gentle weightlifting in the gym, and found substantial benefits from just small amounts of gentle weightlifting to strengthen leg muscles."

Dublin said it's important to tell a doctor or physical therapist about a person's over-the-counter medication use, not only prescriptions. She said cold medications and sleep aids often contain antihistamines, which can make the user drowsy or dizzy.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC