Did you know that one in four Americans age 65+ falls every year? Did you know that falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans?
Some people believe falls are a normal part of aging. Not true! Falling is not inevitable as we age. We can act to prevent falls and promote safety and quality of life as we age. Personal awareness and preparedness are not just for emergencies, but for everyday healthy living and aging.
September 22—the first day of fall—is Falls Prevention Awareness Day. There’s no official theme, so I crafted my own: Make It a Safe Day! We shouldn’t limit falls prevention awareness to one day of the year; rather, we should make every day a safe day.
Recently I was reminded of a book called “The Age of Overwhelm: Strategies for the Long Haul,” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. This book talks about how we can be overwhelmed by work, school, noise, caregiving, driving, and, yes, walking while texting. The inability to focus because we feel overwhelmed can be detrimental to our overall health and wellness—and contribute to falls.
Many of us multi-task, but it’s important to know that this reduces awareness of time and space. As we age, there are changes to our vision, hearing, balance, and flexibility. Balance is important as we need to have the ability to transfer and walk safely. This involves senses, nerves, cognition, breathing, bones, and muscle strength and may involve things in our environment. Some medications affect ability, too. Our whole body is involved when we walk, not just our feet. If we don’t feel the step beneath us, we may fall, twist an ankle, or break a toe.
Community centers, senior centers, some health care groups, and even some housing providers offer exercise and balance classes that can help older adults build the strength and agility they need to avoid injury from falls.
In July, the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services hosted a presentation on “Living Well and Staying Strong” at Aegis Gardens in Issaquah. Michael Woo, Kin On, talked about Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshops—a six-week series of classes on that includes balance, fitness, medication management, and healthy eating. Jan Voit, Harborview Fall Prevention Clinic physical therapist, talked about Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance. The presentation was interactive and people attending were encouraged to participate in the exercise demonstration.
Consider learning about strength and balance through a class or workshop. Call Community Living Connections (toll-free 844-348-5464) to inquire about opportunities near you. Consider learning about focus and balance through reading. You can find the book I referenced above at both King County Library System and Seattle Public Library.
Make it a safe day, one step at a time.
Contributor Mary Pat O’Leary, RN is a planner at Aging and Disability Services. For more information about falls prevention programs and activities, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/what-we-do/healthy-aging/#falls.