Preventing falls with the elderly

November 26, 2008 10:05:58 AM PST
When an elderly person breaks a bone, it can lead to even more serious heath problems.There are exercises and even changes around the house that can help reduce the risk of falls as we age.

For the elderly, falls can lead to broken bones, hospitalization, in-hospital infections and perhaps even death.

Tai Chi is an ancient martial art, focusing on slow movement and balance. The class is one of the ways 58-year-old Eleanor Pharr and other older people are learning to how to prevent falls.

"Tai Chi is an exercise program we use to improve their balance, improve muscles and reduce their risk of falls," said Christopher Daroczy, of Jewish Home LifeCare.

And there are some useful tools, including a simple elastic band to strengthen the arms and legs, a long-handled bath sponge and one to help put on socks.

"You put your sock on the bottom, your foot in the top, you pull up on these straps and you've got your sock on your foot," Daroczy said.

The idea is to put those tools to use in the home, which is where most falls happen. And Eleanor worried.

"I was terrified I would fall and break my arm, hip," she said. "And the older you get, the harder it is to heal."

So she got help from occupational therapist Anafe Casas.

"[She] had the large area rug, which we removed because you could trip," Casas said. "How do you feel about that now?"

"I feel much safer now," Pharr responded.

And in the bath, a chair in the tub for no-slip bathing, and two grabbers that will be installed in the tub and by the toilet.

In the bedroom, Anafe got rid of another slippery throw rug and moved aside a chair that Eleanor tripped on at night. Anafe says it's sometimes not easy for seniors to comply.

"A lot of the tips and recommendations that we give to them are definitely a sign of their aging," she said.

They include wearing rubber soled shoes or sneakers instead of high-heeled shoes. Another important item for older people to discuss with their doctors is medications. Often, side effects and interaction of drugs such as dizziness can increase the risk of a fall.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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