Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Unfortunately, Falls Happen"

We talk about fall prevention like it's an absolute science - if we do everything prescriptive that we know how to do people will be safe. Unfortunately, that's just not true. Falls are going to happen. It's our responsibility to minimize the number and severity of falls that occur by proactively treating a client's home to remove all obvious threats to their safety.

Anyone who has ever watched a toddler learning to walk or trying to master it knows how often they fall. It doesn't seem to bother them - maybe by design. They are small, low to the ground, flexible, and often padded with a diaper.

Teenagers fall while playing games and in organized sports - often it is part of how the activity is designed.

The older we get, the less fun it is to fall. At earlier ages, it might be embarrassing to look clumsy or to slip on the ice or a loose rug and fall. At an older age, it can be quite dangerous. People can hit their head and cause trauma. They can break a hip or wrist. They can dislocate joints.

Can't we just prevent falling completely? Actually not. Life happens. Accidents happen. We can be careful, but things still happen.

Sometimes it the little, unintentional things that literally can trip us up. A small dog in the home getting in our path or running between our legs as we are walking can trip us. Slipping in the shower by stepping wrong or in an unprotected place can happen. Even holding onto a grab bar won't prevent a slip, but hopefully, it will prevent or minimize a fall. Of course reaching for a grab bar - inside or just outside the tub or shower area - and missing it because of depth perception, lack of contrast between the bar and the wall, or having wet hands, can result in a fall also.

No matter how careful we are - or try to have our clients - there is the risk or turning an ankle be stepping incorrectly, slipping on wet pavement or leaves in the yard, attempting to step around something on the ground or floor and getting our feet tangled in it, or in not stepping quite high enough to clear it completely.

We know that standing on a chair or small stool can be risky because we could slip off it or it could tip. Even using a ladder can be tricky if we miss a step going up or slip on the way down because we didn't see it or misjudged the number of steps remaining.

Essentially anytime there is a step, there is a potential of misjudging the location of the step, not planting one's foot solidly, or overstepping and slipping. Anytime there is a railing or grab bar, there is the potential of not engaging it firmly and slipping. Just walking in an area without any obvious obstructions can result in a fall with a misstep or loss of balance.

It would be great if we could definitely declare that by taking certain measures and following various steps that falls have been eliminated. All we can do is eliminate the basic tripping and slipping hazards in a home. Weaker eyesight and balance issues as we age can be serious culprits. Misjudging where a chair or toilet is as we sit can lead to an abrupt fall. A knee or hip issue can complicate this. Rolling out of bed or missing the edge of it when trying to sit on the bed can be dangerous also.

Falls do happen and will continue. We must be alert as to the many causes of slips, trip, and falls and educate people to eliminate them or be allowed to help them do this. Beyond that, it requires a constant diligence to the environment around us and what we are encountering that could put us on the ground - whether at home, the store, the office, the bus, the park, or anyplace else we might be.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.