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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Preventing Falls Can Save Lives

Preventing Falls Can Save Lives


Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., Feb.06, 2008
By Deborah Card, RN, Ed.D and Patricia Frost, RN, MS

AN ACTIVE elderly woman falls and breaks her hip. She ends up in a convalescent home for several months, never fully recovers and ends up passing away.

An elderly man falls getting out of his car and hits his head. He refuses to go to the hospital when the ambulance arrives, but days later ends up having to undergo brain surgery because of slow bleeding from the head injury.

Unfortunately, accidents such as these are common and often preventable.

As people age, they are more likely to lose their balance and to break bones. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death and unintentional injury among Contra Costa residents 65 years and older.

Injuries from falling can prevent healthful exercise and independent living, which, in turn, can lead to blood clots, stroke, depression, joint stiffness, loss of muscle tone, and an increased risk of early death.

The good news is that falls are often preventable and the new Fall Prevention Program of Contra Costa is working to raise awareness about this issue.

Taking the following steps can make a home safer, especially for the elderly:

  • In the bathroom, install grab bars that support a person's weight in the shower and tub, and next to the sink, on stairways and wherever an elderly person needs to stand to perform activities of daily living.
  • Make sure drawers and doors operate smoothly. Trying to open or close sticky doors or drawers can cause you to lose your balance and fall.
  • Raise the height of low chairs and couches by adding cushions or replacing them.
  • Install adequate lighting indoors and outdoors, and use night lights.
  • Know where your pets are. Consider keeping them in another room when you're doing standing activities to avoid tripping over them.
  • Secure throw rugs with rug tape or discard them.

Changing a senior's behaviors also can help prevent falls:

  • Wear flat shoes and non-skid slippers that fit well. Socks are too slippery to wear alone.
  • Make sure your clothes don't drag on the floor.
  • Sit down when changing clothes and putting on shoes.
  • Use handrails even if you don't think you need them.
  • Avoid rushing. Take your time moving from sitting to standing. Moving too quickly can make you dizzy.
  • Use medications properly, and let your doctor know about all medications you're taking, including herbal remedies. Take care when using medications that may cause dizziness. If you feel dizzy, sit down immediately.
  • Exercise: physical activity can help strengthen muscles and improve balance.

Blood-thinning medications such as aspirin, Plavix or coumadin put a person at higher risk for serious injury, because they can cause slow bleeding, which may turn a simple bump into a serious condition that may not show up right away.

If paramedics suggest that you go to the emergency room after a fall, they are probably concerned that you might have such a slow-developing injury.

If you decide to send them away and later feel worse, seek medical care immediately, including calling 911 again.

For more information on fall prevention, visit http://www.stopfalls.org. For information about the Fall Prevention Program of Contra Costa, contact Deborah Card at dcard@hsd.cccounty.us or 925-313-6117.

Card is the Contra Costa Health Services public health nurse manager and Frost is the quality improvement coordinator for Contra Costa Emergency Medical Services. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at theairdoctor@gmail.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.


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