By Osagie Ebekozien, MPH, Manager of Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement, and Tamika Santos, Clinical Case Manager
June is National Safety Month, and the National Safety Council encourages us to consider the many safety issues that we face in our everyday lives. This year, the National Safety Month theme is “Safety: It takes all of us,” and this week (Week 2) is dedicated to “Stop slips, trips and falls.” The safety campaign is inspired by the idea of continuous risk reduction, which is something that we at Whittier Street Health Center are very committed to as a health and wellness center in the community.
WHY ARE FALLS A SAFETY ISSUE?
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries. Millions of nonfatal injuries are treated in the emergency rooms due to falls from a greater population of older adults. Patients generally do not speak about their falls to primary care providers. Creating a safer environment, educating, and training patients about fall prevention strategies must be emphasized. There is a high risk of 80% fall fatalities in low- and middle-income communities. Some older adults who fall suffer from disability and require long term care.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Anyone is at risk of a fall. Specific risk factors that contribute to falls are: occupation, unsafe environments, medical conditions, poor mobility or cognition, and substance abuse. Patients aged 65 and older suffer a great deal of fatal falls. Aging adults are at higher risk for falling and getting moderate or severe injuries due to physical, cognitive, and sensory changes with age. Small children are also at a high risk of falls because of risk-taking behaviors during increased independence, and possible hazardous environments.
One out of every three older adults have falls that most often happen in the home, and require treatment in the emergency rooms. Falls can often cause hip fractures, brain injuries, hospitalizations, body injuries, and deaths. Falls are a threat to the independence and health of older adults. Many falls cause fractures in the hip, spine, ankle, forearm, hand, leg, and pelvis.
HOW CAN OLDER ADULTS PREVENT FALLS?
Fall prevention is very important to help reduce or minimize the number of potential falls that could cause injury. Fall prevention is a great educational topic to improve the quality of health and most importantly the safety of patients. An investment in fall prevention is an investment in your independence.
Exercising is a great way to increase your health and well-being and to strengthen the muscles in all parts of your body, specifically your legs. It is important to have good muscle coordination, flexibility, and balance. Exercising and strengthening leg muscles will potentially decrease the likelihood of falls. Your doctor could help recommend appropriate exercise programs to attend, or refer you to physical therapy.
Medications should be reviewed by your primary care doctor to make sure there are no potential risks of side effects. Side effects from your medications can increase certain health conditions and the risk of falling if the medications potentially cause dizziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
All patients must follow-up with their primary care doctor to discuss in further detail about potential falls and how to prevent them. Patients should inform their doctor when a fall has occurred to prevent future fall risk, which gives the doctor the opportunity to provide specific fall prevention strategies.
Eye exams are very important, to ensure proper vision when going about your daily life and activities. If you haven’t had an eye exam and need to follow-up about your vision, it is best to be seen as soon as possible to prevent further complications with your eyes as well as potential falls.
Use helpful devices such as hand rails for stairways, mats or grab bars in the shower, wearing slippers or socks that have grip on the bottom, buying comfortable shoes with grip, nonslip treads for bare-wood steps. You could also add brighter lights to the home.
Remove or rearrange home hazards such as materials or objects on the floor (boxes, electrical cords, paper). Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, make items accessible, move big objects from high traffic areas of the home, and promptly clean spilled or greasy areas.
Whittier offers Fall Prevention classes for persons ages 60 and older who participate in our Building Vibrant Communities Program. Other patients and community residents are also encouraged to join! During classes, a Physical Therapist will demonstrate stretches and exercises to strengthen muscles and help prevent falls. Please call the Community Relations Department at 617-989-3019 for more details.