It happens all year round, but most often during the holidays.
Climbing up on chairs or stepladders to put up lights and decorations,
a lot of people—especially seniors—lose their balance, tumble
and fall, causing head injuries, hip fractures and broken bones.
Falling is a leading cause of visits to the emergency room nationwide.
In Orange County, with its high population of seniors, “it’s
a more serious problem than anyone realizes,” says
Dr. Almaas A. Shaikh, trauma medical director at
Mission Hospital. She and other experts participated in a recent workshop for seniors at
Laguna Woods City Hall on this topic.
“Each year 2.8 million fall-related injuries are treated in the ER,”
says Dr. Shaikh, who is also a trauma surgeon. What bothers her is that
unlike many illnesses, falls can be prevented. “Falls are simple,
we can prevent them,” Dr. Shaikh says.
All kinds of tripping hazards exist in homes. “That favorite rug?
It’s a slipping hazard,” says Dr. Shaikh. It should be tacked
down or pads placed underneath so it can’t slip. Loose electrical
cords also pose a danger, she says. Wearing shoes that don’t fit
well or not wearing your glasses, can lead to falling, too.
“The bathroom is where the majority of falls happen,” says
Nicholas Mannering, trauma program manager at Mission Hospital and a fall
prevention coach for the 8-week “A Matter of Balance” class.
He was one of the experts at the recent workshop. “These falls are
the worst because the surfaces are cold, wet and have sharp edges.”
When an older person falls, the damage can be greater than for younger
people. For one thing, a younger person can get up—many older people
cannot. “When a 20-year-old falls, they feel nothing, but an 80-year-old
who falls might snap a femur or hip,” says Dr. Shaikh. “It’s
very unfortunate to have patients who’ve been on the floor for 4
to 6 hours, who could not call for help, and had no phone nearby. And
when a person is taking blood thinner, a broken hip can lead to major
bleeding,” she says.
Fear of falling
Sensing their own frailty, many seniors become so afraid of falling that
they stop going out. That’s why Mission Hospital offers A Matter
of Balance classes taught by Mannering. “People get scared of falling
so they limit their activity,” he says. “Then they get weaker
and more likely to fall—and then they get even more scared of falling.”
Mannering teaches seniors how to avoid falling, how to get up after a fall—and
how to address fear of falling. “It’s not unusual to hear
people say they’re scared to leave their house most days,”
he says. He speaks to senior groups often on this topic. “When we
ask how many have fallen, 90 percent say yes. When we ask how many are
scared of falling, it’s 100 percent,” says Mannering, who
works with the Down with Falls Coalition of Orange County and the Orange
County Office on Aging.
He encourages seniors to exercise, even as little as standing up, then
sitting down during commercials while watching TV. And he asks them share
their challenges with each other, as well as solutions like going up stairs
sideways, asking for a seat in a crowded bus or having a younger person
help put up holiday lights.
QUICK HOME FIXES
Nicholas Mannering and Dr. Almaas Shaikh recommend these fall-prevention tips:
- Remove small rugs or make sure they’re secured to the floor.
- Get someone to hang decorations and holiday lights for you.
- Install a night light and have broken light bulbs replaced.
- Tie up wires lying on the floor.
- Get your vision checked once a year.
- Have grab rails installed in the bathroom and along stairs.
- Manage medications – let your pharmacist and doctors know all medication
you’re taking, to avoid interactions that could cause dizziness.
- Reconsider keeping pets; they provide comfort but you can trip over them!
(This story originally appeared in OC Catholic, December, 2016)