BY NORBERT RUG
Falls are frightening when they happen to anyone but especially for senior citizens. Over 25% of all Americans over age 65 fall every year, and every fall has approximately a 20% chance of causing a serious injury. These could include head injuries and broken bones.
I recently went down as I was exiting the shower. As I was sliding down (I didn’t fall) with one foot in the shower and the rest of me on the bathroom floor, I heard a crack similar when you crack your knuckles. Due to the fact I have peripheral neuropathy (thank you chemo), I didn’t feel any pain.
This is the fourth time I “melted” in recent years. The first time was when I was in our upstairs bathroom and the heat and humidity from taking a shower got to me. The EMTs had a hard time getting me down our narrow stairway at that time and I decided to have a first floor bedroom suite attached to the back of the house. The second time I went down was on Market Street as I was going to an appointment. Then a little more than a month ago I melted twice in our home.
The last time, my dear wife called 9-1-1. Not only did the ambulance crew arrive but some Lockport firefighters arrived. One of the firefighters that showed up I have known for over 20 years. I first just asked to be picked up and put in bed but he talked me into going to the hospital. I am very glad he did. Turns out I had a distal fracture of the fibula. I was treated in the hospital and ended going up going to an orthopedic doctor who fitted me with a boot.
About 50% of the older people who suffer a fall-related injury will be released to a rehab facility rather than return to their homes and they wanted to send me to a facility for Rehab upon my discharge. My mother-in-law fell in her apartment and broke her hip. She was discharged to a rehab facility and never saw her apartment again. My wife’s aunt fell and broke her leg. She lived out her last days in bed, in a rehab facility, never to return to her apartment either. There was no way I was going anywhere but my own house.
It’s easy for a senior citizen to be scared of falling, whether they have experienced a bad fall or not. But the fear of falling, in reality, makes people more susceptible to falls. There are three parts to the human balance system. The visual which gives us depth, velocity and motion perception. Second is the inner ear. An inner ear infection can throw your balance off. I had an inner ear infection and it was like I was drunk. I couldn’t stand up without falling over. The third is the Somatic Sensory System. To put this in layman’s terms. This system lets you maintain your balance by letting you know where your feet are. This is important for standing and walking. Because I have Peripheral Neuropathy, I can’t rely on this system as my feet are numb and I have to rely on my sight to know where they are.
It is reasonable when you think about it. Someone who fears falling is apt to limit physical activity. It’s a good idea to be careful about falling, but letting fear of falling slow you down has downsides, too. By reducing your physical activity, it can make you weaker and weaker people are more liable to fall. Here are some ways to reduce your risk.
Proper footwear with the correct support helps with walking stability and helps reduce fall risk.
Schedule regular eye exams and ensure you’re getting the right eyeglass prescription. This can help keep you be more stable while walking because you will be able to see the floor better. If you have bifocals, you might want to ask for a pair of glasses to use strictly for seeing at a distance.
Maintain an exercise routine that centers on leg strength and balance. These two factors can help you stay steady on the ground. One example of such an exercise is Tai Chi but there are several exercises for seniors available on the internet. Physical therapy can also build your confidence and ensure you have more consistent movement and can decrease your chance of falls.
Talk to your doctor before you start any exercise regimen and ask them how much of a risk they think that falling poses to you. Also, find out if any of your prescriptions can contribute to dizziness. Ensure you’re getting the proper dosage of vitamin D. Too little or too much vitamin D has been shown to increase your risk of falling.
Keep your floors free of clutter. Be sure your stairs have handrails. Add sufficient lighting inside your house so you can see clearly as you move about. I have installed battery operated, motion detector lights and emergency lighting night lights that operate even during a power failure. Install grab bars in your bathroom for both the toilet and tub. Use of personal stability devices like canes or walkers can help also increase your stability when you walk.
Norb is a freelance Journalist in Lockport.