Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Distractions Are A Major Cause Of Falls"

We know how potentially devastating falls can be - especially as people get older.  They can lead to broken bones, dislocations, muscle or ligament damage, of head trauma. Depending on the severity of the fall and where it happened, it can be frightening - even if no other injury occurred, This can lead to a general fear of going outside or having any type of normal activity. Walking - even around the house or yard - and climbing steps  is minimized for fear of another episode.

Falls aren't necessarily inevitable but they are extremely hard to totally prevent. We can do our best - both for ourselves and the clients we work with to help fall-proof their homes. Aging in place means being independent at home and being safe in that home. Both ideals are threatened when falls occur.

We know that falls can happen from slipping on loose throw rugs or tripping over electric cords that cross our path of travel. Worn carpeting that has stretched and bunched up can catch a toe or heel as someone walks across it - or a walker leg or wheel. Even plush carpeting can present issues by affecting someone's balance.

Tripping over storage items (boxes or containers), attempting to sidestep suitcases, books, or other items that are setting on the floor or on steps and then slipping, or misjudging a step can lead to falling. Stairs like wooden basement stairs often have an open back ("open-tread") that can allow a person's foot to slide into the opening an trap it - causing a fall backwards.

Attempting to stand on a stool or step ladder can be dangerous if the device slips or tips - or we lean to far and lose our balance.

There just is no shortage of potential ways to fall in and about the home. In the yard, we can trip over garden hoses, toys, balls, sprinklers, and yard tools that may be partially hidden or concealed in the grass. Tree branches - from small twigs to larger limbs can get caught in our gait and cause a fall. There are divots from activities or animal activity (dogs, squirrels, or others). There might be fruit, nuts, or seeds that have fallen to the ground from trees in our yard that can cause us to step improperly when our foot comes in contact with them. And on it goes.

A leading cause of falling - other than just being careless or not paying attention to what we are doing or what might be in our path - is distractions. Just as distractions while driving are discouraged and even regulated in may places (no cell phone use or texting, for instance), distractions can be just as consequential while walking.

We can't legislate against activities that might be done in connection with walking, but (all of us, including our clients) need to be totally focused on just walking while we are doing that - whether it's for exercise or just going to the kitchen to get a snack.

So often while we are walking we are carrying something in our hands that can affect our balance or block our field of view, or we are looking around at the scenery and not looking straight ahead at where we are going or what might be in our path that we could step on. Someone might call out to us and we turn around to acknowledge them - but continue walking forward. We might be talking on the phone or trying to take a photo (with our smartphone or a camera) and not concentrate on where we are walking or what is in front of us.

To remain safe - and upright - we need to be smart about walking. It is serious business - especially when faced with the alternative of being on the ground and risking injury because we were distracted or careless about our walking.

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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.