Stephanie Tamisiea, RN, with Bryant T. Aldridge Rehabilitation Center, sharing the good (proper lighting) and the bad (throw rugs) during a “Preventing Falls in the Home” presentation.
Just about everyone takes a fall occasionally, but it’s the senior population that is most adversely affected by falls. A small child can fall a hundred times and, despite all the crying, never be seriously injured. Not so for the other end of the age spectrum. Records indicate that one in four over age 65 will have a serious fall every year, but since many falls are never reported, some estimates are as high as one in three. At 80 years, half will fall each year.
Stephanie Tamisiea, RN, and her team of physical, occupational, and recreational therapists from Nash UNC Health Care’s Bryant T. Aldridge Rehabilitation Center are on a mission to help prevent falls. Their educational program for preventing falls in the home is being presented at churches and civic groups, and they’re offering a second program that is designed for helping staff members prevent falls at healthcare facilities.
Young people can sometimes be careless, take an unreasonable risk, or fall in some other way that results in injury, but old age is the primary underlying risk factor contributing to severe and permanent injury, loss of independence, even death.
Old age has a way of slowly, insidiously, creeping up on us. Reflexes become slower and balance isn’t what it used to be. A lot of things change – joints get stiff, more aches and pains, failing vision, disabilities, lingering health issues, and lots of medications.
Most falls are caused by a combination of these risk factors. Since the issues related to growing older are a huge contributing factor to falls, seniors need to take a much closer look at something they can control … their living space.
Tamisiea’s presentation is focused on the older population, but everyone can gain valuable insight from her information-packed program. She talks about slips, trips, falling into walls or furniture, and then goes on to debunk the top ten myths surrounding falls. Many people think falls are a normal part of aging; they are not, and most falls can be prevented.
The presentation includes a thorough look at Six Steps to Prevent a Fall, a publication produced by the National Council on Aging. This is followed by a risk factors quiz so that everyone attending has a better understanding of their own personal risk.
“One of my favorite parts of the programs,” says Tamisea, “is when we go through a room-by-room checklist of the most common causes of falls ̶ from slippery (and hard) surfaces in the bathroom to cluttered pathways and poor lighting throughout the home.” With dozens of precautions included in the checklist, every room, every home, can be made safer.
“We cover safety devices which help unsteady seniors maintain their balance, such as special railings, grab bars, shower chairs, walkers, and reachers. And we also stress the importance of removing all tripping hazards and having adequate lighting. As we grow older, our eyes not only lose acuity, they also require more light. And today, it’s not watts we care about; it’s lumens, or the actual brightness of a bulb,” added Tamisiea.
The presentation also includes helpful information about postural hypotension – a sudden decrease in blood pressure that occurs when someone moves too quickly or changes position – such as sitting up from a reclining position, or standing after sitting a while. Even straining on the toilet can cause a potentially dangerous drop in blood pressure, leading to dizziness, fainting, and muscle weakness.
Many seniors take lots of medications. Blood pressure drugs can cause dizziness; diuretics, often called “fluid pills,” can cause rush trips to the bathroom, increasing the risk for a fall; and many categories of medications can create drowsiness or a lack of steadiness and balance. These prescription drugs are more helpful than harmful, of course, but make it necessary to take extra precautions against falling.
Despite medications, many seniors still face ongoing health issues. This program covers the link between osteoporosis and fall-related injuries, as well as other problems such as neuropathy in the feet and legs, especially for diabetics.
Another risk we often overlook: pets. We don’t consider our pets to be clutter, but they’re certainly a tripping hazard, both inside the home and out. About 86,000 people visit emergency departments each year – many of them seniors – after tripping over a pet, especially dogs and cats.
Other presenters from Bryant T. Aldridge Rehabilitation Center include Sherry Flora, PTA; Cathy Edwards; OT; and Emily Deans, RT. If you have an interest in a group presentation, please contact The Bryant T. Aldridge Rehabilitation Center at (252) 962-3780.