Nancy Butty, the trauma prevention coordinator at Ascension Providence in Rochester, leads a class on reducing the risk of dangerous falls for senior citizens.

Nancy Butty, the trauma prevention coordinator at Ascension Providence in Rochester, leads a class on reducing the risk of dangerous falls for senior citizens.

Photo provided by Angie Kadowski

Experts urge seniors to reduce their falling risks

By: Brendan Losinski | Metro | Published October 27, 2021


METRO DETROIT — When most people think of risks to their health, falling down or slipping probably doesn’t top their list.

Yet for senior citizens, it can be a major hazard that health experts want to educate the public about.

Angie Kadowaki, the life enrichment director at American House Elmwood in Rochester Hills, said that falls can cause a major risk for ongoing injuries.

“We know it’s one of the leading causes of seniors declining,” she said. “It often results in injuries and mobility issues. Once you’ve fallen, you’re more likely to fall again. Baby boomers want to stay active and are looking for ways to prevent falls.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that about 3 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for a fall injury each year, and 1 out of every 5 falls causes an injury, such as broken bones or a head injury.

“Don’t jump to conclusions. Talk to professionals and take action before you have a fall,” remarked Kristy Mattingly, the clinical manager of community living programs at the Area Agency on Aging 1-B. “Preventing the damage of a fall is always better than mitigating the damage of one after.”

The risk for falls can increase with age due to potentially declining eyesight, balance and reaction time.

“The top five causes of falls include impaired vision, which leads to increased risks of falls; medications, which have side effects that can make people less alert, drowsy or dizzy; poor balance and gait; household hazards like carpeting or poor lighting; chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s or diabetes, which can increase fall risks,” explained Kadowski.

Even if a fall is treated, the injury can have a compounded effect on a senior’s life by reducing mobility or aggravating other health issues.

“With falls, there’s a lot of different reasons for increases in risk,” said Mattingly. “If someone is having more and more falls, they definitely want to contact a physician. It can be because of a condition or a change in medication. … If this is something new for them, they should touch base with their medical provider.”

Kadowski said there are a lot of steps senior citizens can take to help prevent these incidents.

“Make an appointment with a doctor to create a fall prevention plan,” she said. “Keep moving and maintain physical activity — it can go a long way to preventing falls. Wear sensible shoes like tennis shoes instead of slippers. (Remove) home hazards like books or newspapers on the floor or rugs that aren’t secured. Keep your home as clutter-free as possible. Use nightlights to light up your living space. If you have a walker or cane, always bring it with you, even if you are just moving around your own home. You can install handrails and grab bars and use non-slip mats in the shower or bathtub.”

“They should have their vision and hearing checked out, because those can affect your risk of falling or your balance,” added Mattingly. “You see a lot of falls in bathrooms, so you may just need some non-slip strips in the shower or add grab bars in the bathtub. A shower bench can help a lot of people, depending on their needs. … Putting handrails on steps, even just if there’s a few on the front porch. They can explore the possibility of physical therapy or using a cane or walker, but I would advise that they speak with a medical provider about what is best for them.”

There are local programs that can help provide assistance or advice on the matter.

“What we’re doing is that we do a daily exercise program (at American House Elmwood),” said Kadowski. “We focus on upper body strength, balance and leg strength. We also have several presentations on fall prevention that are open to the public each year,” she said. “Some of our partners that come in, including Ascension Providence of Rochester, conduct a balance assessment. The Rochester Hills Fire Department also comes in and offers ways to reduce falls.”

“There are a lot of resources online,” added Mattingly. “There are checklists they can find. There’s one at they can check out. We have the Matter of Balance class here, which is currently online, where people can get advice or ask questions on the topic. … Right now, there are fewer programs like this because a lot of things got put on hold because of COVID.”

Kadowski hopes that more people take advantage of such resources, because a small injury can have a huge impact on a senior citizen’s life.

“People can call for more information. We expect to run our next presentation in January. They can call (248) 852-1980 for more information. … They can reach out to Ascension Providence in Rochester and ask for Trauma Prevention Coordinator Nancy Butty, who can offer advice or referrals. She can be contacted at (248) 601-8075,” she said. “Be aware of how serious falls can be. They are the No. 1 reason seniors can go into decline. You really want to create a plan and mitigate these risks so you can stay independent.”