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Check-ups Help Ensure it's Just Autumn Leaves that Fall

Exercise is recommended to boost strength and balance in order to reduce seniors' risk of falling. Credit: USDA
Exercise is recommended to boost strength and balance in order to reduce seniors' risk of falling. Credit: USDA
September 10, 2015

HELENA, Mont. - September is Falls Prevention Awareness Month, calling attention to the frequency and seriousness of falls among older people, and ways to prevent them. It's estimated one in three people over age 65 takes a major, unexpected tumble at least once a year.

Dr. Sascha Dublin, internal medicine physician and investigator at Group Health, says it can be a challenge getting an older relative or friend to agree to a risk evaluation, but it's important to try.

"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," says Dublin.

A fall-risk evaluation includes a person's gait and balance, his or her health conditions, medications and home environment. Dublin says people who use balance 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 says 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," says Dublin. So for instance, there have been randomized trials that took 90 year olds to do very gentle weight-lifting in the gym, and found substantial benefits from just small amounts of gentle weight-lifting to strengthen leg muscles."

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

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT