Health Team

Precautions can prevent senior-citizen falls

Posted September 10, 2008 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2008 12:15 a.m. EDT

— As senior citizens age, their health risks increase. That's why Rex Senior Health Center's Dr. Leroy Darkes likes to see his elderly patients often.

"I think that our seniors should get every second of quality life that they possibly can, and that begins with good prevention," said Darkes. He likes to keep his patients up to date on a number of health screenings including:

  • Vision and glaucoma checks
  • Mammorgrams for women and prostate cancer screening for men
  • Colonoscopies to check for colorectal cancer
  • Regular blood-pressure and cholesterol checks.
  • Updating vaccinations for pneumonia, tetanus and shingles.
  • An annual flu shot

Darkes says that sometimes the greatest threat to seniors' health is right at home.

"As we age," he said, "we become more fragile, more likely to injure our head, sustain a head injury which could be very devastating." Seniors also may fracture a bone, which immobilizes them, and that can easily lead to other health concerns.

For 79-year-old Hermena Hunter, rheumatoid arthritis makes her even more vulnerable to a fall. That's why she's made some changes at home.

"There was gravel in the driveway, so I was able to get the driveway poured with concrete," she said. She also added more railing at the front steps and carpeting to cover a slick wood floor inside.

"And I tried to choose the correct kind of shoes to wear, too, to keep from slipping and falling," said Hunter. She also uses a cane to keep her steady and tries to keep her home free of trip hazards like loose rugs.

Those simple precautions may help her to stay independent in her own home "for as long as I possibly can. I love to be self-sufficient," said Hunter.

Darkes says it's very important for adult children to help their parents eliminate fall risks in the home and to encourage them to use a walking device if needed.

Some of the suggestions Rex Healthcare rehabilitation professionals make on falls prevention:

  • Proper footwear (rubber-soled shoes)
  • Keep floors dry and free of clutter to minimize slip and trip hazards
  • Remove or secure down any throw rugs that may slide.
  • Keep areas well-lit if they are to be walked at night (night lights)
  • Have railings installed on stairs
  • Use the bathroom just before bed to limit the numbers of trips at night.
  • When changing positions (lying down to sitting, sitting to standing) take a minute to keep from being too dizzy.
  • If you have been prescribed and shown how to use a walking device, use it.
  • Talk with your physician and/or pharmacist about side effects of medications and take them as prescribed

To maintain an overall healthy lifestyle, start an exercise program after consulting your physician. A physical therapist may be consulted to assist with personalizing the program.