By Denise Pott, LCSW, Assistance Home Care
One January day as I was headed off to work at a midtown hospital, I had just turned the corner onto my subdivision’s main street when my eyes caught something off to my right. Although it took me a second, I quickly realized that what I was seeing was an older gentleman lying on his back in his driveway. I stopped the car and ran over to check on him.
I was glad to see that he was moving both arms and legs. Although it was freezing cold and the wind was blowing, he was wearing only pants and a flannel shirt. He said that he had fallen while walking to his mailbox to mail a letter, didn’t think he needed to put on a coat for such a short trip, and now he couldn’t get up. How long had he been there? Thankfully, he said that it was only a few minutes.
He appeared intact, and said that he thought he could get up with a bit of help. Cautiously, I helped him roll over and he was then able to get to his hands and knees. At that point another passerby stopped, and the two of us helped him stand and walked him to the door. His wife was waiting and came to him as soon as he got inside. He seemed embarrassed and refused any further help. I left after strongly recommending that he contact his physician to get checked out.
I have thought back on that day many times. As a medical social worker and gerontologist, I know that the outcome of falls is often much worse. I have worked with many patients who have had falls. Many had fractures including broken hips, ribs, arms, and shoulder fractures. One poor woman had all of the above, with both of her arms broken. She had slipped on her basement stairs, and fell forward and landed with both arms pinned under her. She was unable to move except to turn her head back and forth. She lived alone and was on the floor for several days before someone came to check on her. When she was brought to the hospital she was dehydrated, hypothermic, and covered in urine and feces. While this seems like a particularly awful case, you must count her fortunate in that many times these patients go to the morgue and not to the hospital.
I’m not writing this to frighten you, but to let you know that falls must be taken very seriously. The importance of fall prevention cannot be stressed enough!
Here are some steps you should take to prevent falls.
- First, talk to you doctor about your health conditions and medications that may put you at risk for falls.
- Keep Moving: exercise improves your strength and balance, coordination, and flexibility. Tai Chi is very good for improving balance, as is yoga.
- Wear Sensible Shoes: non-slip soles, good support, and proper fit are key.
- Remove Hazards: clutter, extension cords, and throw rugs to name a few. Keep things within easy reach to keep from losing your balance.
- Get Some Light On The Subject. Keep your home well lit to avoid tripping on hard-to-see objects. Keep an easy-to-reach lamp at your bedside.
- Use Assistive Devices: Don’t be afraid to use a canes or walker. Put handrails on both sides of stairways, and use non-slip treads for barwood stairs. Get a raised toilet seat or one with armrests, and install grab bars for the shower or tub. A non-slip mat is essential for the tub, and a sturdy plastic seat for the shower or tub — plus a hand-held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down, can make life a lot easier!
Although not intended for prevention, a Personal Emergency Response System is essential for summoning help quickly if you do fall.
I’m so glad that things turned out well and that my neighbor was safe. I hope that everyone reading this article will realize the importance of Fall Prevention and take the steps listed above to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe as well.
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