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STAND TALL THIS FALL: Falls Prevention Awareness Day on September 22

September 22, 2020 | Rehabilitation Services


This coming week, summer makes its exit for the arrival of fall on Tuesday, September 22. Each year, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) recognizes the first day of fall as Falls Prevention Awareness Day. 

As a significant segment of our population ages, experts say falls are a growing public health issue throughout the country with an older adult seen in an emergency department every 11 seconds for a fall-related injury. We may tend to think of this as a normal part of aging or even a touchy subject to discuss. However, the NCOA suggests we should examine these attitudes, as most falls are preventable—and, though they happen in an instant, they can impact an individual’s quality of life for the longterm. “A fall can be devastating,” says Jocelyn Long, RN, BS, CPHQ and Quality & Safety Specialist at Penn Highlands Healthcare. Long points out that the topic may be sensitive to discuss between loved ones or during a medical visit because it seems to imply the aging among us should think about slowing down. But, she says, “We all have parents and grandparents or friends who are reaching that age when they’re seeing issues with their balance, or their vision is changing.” That’s nothing for any of us to be ashamed of, and it’s an important reason to think this topic through. 

In hopes that the only fall you experience this year comes with cozy nights indoors and colorful leafy views, here are tips on how to prevent falls for yourself and the people you care about:

  • Tour your home for safety hazards. “I’ve always been an advocate of situational awareness in the home,” Long says. “So many things people aren’t even aware of in their homes puts them at increased risk.” It’s important to think about throw rugs, uneven pavement, slippery stairs or floors, and the most precious impediment of all, a scampering pet. Rugs in the kitchen and bathroom can cause slips and trips, Long says, and adding sturdy grab bars to help move out of the shower or off the toilet may be something you’ll thank yourself for later. 
  • See your doctor. Annual vision screenings are important, as are regular checkups with the PCP. “It’s important to review overall wellness, as well as your medications with your physician,” Long says. “Make sure you’re still taking the right things, and that your medications aren’t resulting in side effects such as making you dizzy or drowsy.” 
  • Move consciously. Many of us don’t want to hear that we should use greater caution to the point of “slowing down” in our lives, so a different way of looking at this may be to operate with a little more attention. Take your time on the way to appointments, doing the activities you love, and when getting ready—and, says Long, prepare yourself by dressing appropriately. “Wear the right shoes,” she says; for example, “Don’t wear flip-flops to go on a hike.” Safety first is a good rule in life, including when it comes to wardrobe choices. 
  • Call for care. Mark Hoffman, Penn Highlands service line director of rehabilitation services and occupational health, says, “If an older person or family member notices any balance issues, weakness, or maybe difficulty getting out of a chair, then it does make a lot of sense to request a physical therapy assessment from their healthcare provider.” Hoffman explains that a Penn Highlands therapist can develop a program to target any areas where the patient may be having some issues, such as a degenerative condition in the knees or hips, or their general condition. “We can get them on a program to help with strengthening and balance,” Hoffman says, and this doesn’t necessarily require a significant commitment from the patient—“It might just be getting them set up with a home program so they can work at home safely.” For an individual who is homebound or who has experienced a major event, it may be worthwhile to contact a home health nurse, such as Penn Highlands Community Nurses, who offer therapy services in the home. For individuals and their families dealing with Parkinson’s disease, Hoffman also mentions the Penn Highlands DuBois support group for patients and families dealing with Parkinson’s, which meets monthly.
  • Call for help. During a hospital stay, know that your safety and wellbeing is the hospital staff’s highest priority. “We have a fall prevention team who are always looking at the newest literature and research out there to help patients avoid falling,” Long says. As part of the Penn Highlands quality and safety initiative that started in 2018, inpatient falls with serious injury have dropped 56 percent over the past year—but that’s also thanks to patients and their loved ones using good judgment. While it’s tempting to think we know how to help a loved one out of bed when we’re visiting them in the hospital, Long says, “Really we need to call for help from someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.” 
  • Heads up away from home, too. Once you start into your day, it’s easy to forget something as basic as being careful—but obviously, falls don’t only occur at home. “Even when you leave the house to go to the post office or bank, or for an appointment, be aware of your surroundings,” Long says.
  • Watch out on behalf of those you love. “Even younger generations need to think about our parents and grandparents, and how we can help them in their homes—as well as our own,” Long says. It may also be a good idea to show kindness to strangers who look like they could use a hand. “Some are reluctant to ask for help, but we should see that they’re going to need a little more support.”

As a final note, “Don’t take the risk of falling,” says Long, “because the effects can be detrimental. Sometimes we see fractures from falls that can lead to decreased mobility which in turn can result in blood clots, as well as depression. A fall can snowball.”

This change of season, keep a heads-up and prepare for a healthy year ahead. (Have you gotten your flu shot yet? Visit www.phhealthcare.org/stoptheflu). For home health care, see www.phhealthcare.org/homehealth, and for information on Penn Highlands physical therapy services, visit www.phhealthcare.org/rehab.