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Falls can happen to anyone – at any time – anywhere and at any height.
As we get older, the potential for serious injury or hospitalization from falls increases greatly. Additionally, loss of strength, balance and for some, vision, all lead to increased risks of taking a tumble.
“These falls affect us all, whether it be personally or someone we love and care about,” said Amanda Lencyk, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Mercy Health. “Falls remain one of the leading causes of traumatic injury we see at our two trauma centers – St. Elizabeth Youngstown and St. Joseph Warren.”
Lencyk adds that 40 percent of all trauma patients seen at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital are 65 older. Of those patients, 80 percent of them were treated due to injuries from falling.
What contributes to falling?
Improper use of assistive devices: Needing the use of an assistive device, such as a cane or walker, can increase the risk of falling. It is important to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about which device is right for you. People are often given these devices to help, but they are not trained how to use them.
Age: Older adults are more susceptible due to changes in vision, strength and balance. Serious injuries from falls steadily increase with age and peak among those 85 and older.
Lack of exercise: Leads to weakness and increases the chances of falling. “Although a fall may have already happened, simple interventions and resources will allow people to remain independent in their homes.” Lencyk said.
She warns individuals who have developed a fear of falling - having suffered one previously – not to refrain from remaining active. Doing so can increase the risk for falling again.
By eliminating this fear, Lencyk says, “A person’s risk for falling decreases the minute they stop being afraid.”
How can falls be prevented?
Speaking up: Talk to your health care provider right away if you have fallen, worry about falling, or feel unsteady.
Check your eyes and feet: Have your eyes and feet checked at least once per year. Issues with poor vision and foot problems can increase your chances of falling.
Make your home safer: By removing things you can trip over, use nonslip mats in the bath and shower, have grab bars next to and inside the tub and next to the toilet, and make sure your home is well-lit inside and outside.
Keep moving: Exercise to improve strength and balance. There is a great deal of evidence that supports Tai Chi and Matter of Balance as excellent exercise programs to improve balance and strengthen legs.
Simple chair exercises can improve balance and enhance core strength to reduce fall risks. If you have concerns about what exercises you should be doing, talk to your doctor to find the program that is right for you.
Free fitness classes, provided through a grant from Mercy Health Foundation-Mahoning Valley, are available at several locations throughout Mahoning and Trumbull counties as part of the Stepping Out program.
These classes encompass a broad range of activities – everything from chair aerobics and core strength training to line dancing, Zumba, fitness walking and kettle bell workouts.
The most important thing is to find an exercise program that is right for you.
Lencyk says she is “passionate about getting this information out to the community and improving the quality of life.”
Mercy Health offers fall prevention education and is hosted at various churches, senior and community centers. For information on class schedules or questions on how to yourself or loved one fall free, contact Lencyk directly at 330-480-2496 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on Mercy Health’s Stepping Out classes, contact Doris Bullock at 330-720-3293.