Something all seniors should have on their minds.
As part of a routine visit with my doctor, I completed and turned in a three-page Medicare questionnaire dealing with my general health and habits. After this was tucked away, unread, the doctor asked several questions of his own and finished with, “Have you had any falls?”
I responded immediately, “No” as I thought, that is not exactly true. I did trip over the dog’s leash while we were walking at night a couple of months ago but that could happen to anyone.
The doctor continued. “One of the major issues that I deal with is falls in seniors that turn out to be life-threatening or life-changing and sometimes fatal.”
Agreeing, I said, “Gravity is a great thing when it comes to keeping us firmly planted on the ground, but it can be the devil if we fail to keep our feet under us and take a tumble. The end result, in that case, is that gravity always wins and we lose. Sometimes in a big way.”
The doctor, who happened to be a classmate of my son-in-law and one of my students in medical school said, “I know you write a column every week for seniors. You should tell your readers some things they can do to avoid falling.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Let’s put our heads together and see what we can come up with.” Following is a list of tips, from the perspective of a doctor and his eighty-plus-year-old patient.
I began: Be very careful when walking your dog on a leash. And don’t be lulled into complacency just because you have a small dog. Tripping over a leash when the dog has circled behind you can be a danger. Remain aware of the dog’s position and keep the leash away from your legs.
The doctor offered: Seniors should lean forward when walking up a flight of stairs, to keep their center of gravity over their feet and avoid tipping backward.
Then I offered: “We should avoid walking downstairs while carrying anything heavy, especially with both hands.”
Other points we agreed on were:
• Use a handrail if one is available walking up or down the stairs. If there is no handrail, consider avoiding those stairs. If you can’t avoid using the stairway, use the wall to steady yourself or walk with someone who can offer support from behind going up or in front going down. That is better than nothing but not as good as a handrail.
• Turn on the lights going into a room and when using the stairs. Leave the lights on if you will be returning to an area, even if it is a familiar one. Better to use more electricity than take a chance.
• When the temperature is below 40 degrees, be wary of the possibility of ice and take every precaution to have a handhold or someone for support before you take your first steps.
• Avoid using small area rugs, especially ones with an upturned border. These are well-known trippers.
• Be wary of a slippery floor in the bath and shower. Use a mat for better footing and wall-mounted bars for safety. Consider having a bath chair to use in the shower.
• Avoid standing up suddenly. You may feel dizzy momentarily, until your heart starts pumping oxygenated blood to your brain. If this occurs regularly, always have something or someone nearby for support.
• When putting on trousers, stand next to a wall or have something you can use for support. Avoid using both hands on the garment while standing even momentarily on one leg. A better way to avoid trouble is to put your trousers on while sitting down.
These suggestions may sound like nothing more than common sense, but they are important—and too many seniors ignore them and discover the hard way.
If you think of anything we missed, that can help seniors avoid falls, please let us know. Remember, we’re all in this together.
By Gene Helveston
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