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Iowans Urged to Take Stand to Prevent Falls

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Credit: Imagesbybarbara
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Credit: Imagesbybarbara
September 21, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa – Fall officially arrives on Wednesday and with it, Falls Prevention Awareness Day, calling attention to the frequency and seriousness of falls among older people, and ways to prevent them.

It's estimated that one in three people over age 65 takes a major, unexpected tumble at least once a year, and it should signal that a closer look at their fall risk may be in order.

A fall risk evaluation includes a person's gait and balance, health conditions, medications and home environment.

Dr. Sascha Dublin, an internist and investigator with the Group Health Research Institute, says it can be a challenge getting an older relative or friend to agree to this checkup, but 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, 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," she points out.

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.

Dublin recommends preventive steps including exercise, as people age. And not just any exercise, but those that can improve strength, balance and coordination. Tai chi is at the top of her 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 stresses. “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."

Across Iowa this Wednesday, Tai Chi classes will be held in numerous communities from Ames and Ankeny to Waukee and Windsor Heights.


John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA