By SARA ARTHURS
Falls can be life-altering and dangerous. In Findlay and in Columbus, there are people working to prevent falls among seniors — and prevent the fear of falling, too, which can itself be dangerous.
50 North, Findlay’s senior center, has a new program helping people who may need an emergency response system in case of a fall. Tammie Mattis, outreach and guardianship director at 50 North, said it might also be used in the “sudden onset of a medical condition that requires emergency assistance.”
Mattis said 50 North’s outreach social workers had recognized that some seniors need help finding ERS they could trust, and others have trouble affording them.
Mattis said a lot of people come to 50 North for exercise classes after they have had a fall. And, she said, staff at 50 North frequently hear that one of their regulars has fallen. She said the population of Hancock County residents over age 65 is expected to grow 36 percent between now and the 2030 Census.
And Mattis noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that falling once doubles your chances of falling again. If a senior lives alone, “it may be hours or days before help arrives,” Mattis said. “Any delay in getting help can significantly worsen the situation.”
Ashley Davis is chief of the Elder Connection Division at the Ohio Department of Aging, where she oversees the “Steady U” falls prevention program.
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths among older Ohioans, Davis said. But “we know that falls are not a normal part of aging.”
However, with aging can come a loss of muscle strength and bone density which — as well as some medications — can increase the risk of falling.
Davis said preventing falls involves creating a safer environment and also managing the fear of falling. Many people after a fall, even if they aren’t injured, develop a fear of falling, and therefore become less physically active — which can also put them at higher risk for another fall. In addition, it can lead to isolation as they aren’t going out to socialize.
So she said having an emergency response system can help by decreasing the fear of falling, as the senior knows they have it right at hand.
Davis said an individual can reduce the risk of falling by paying attention to the three Hs: “home, health and habits.”
Keep the walkway clear and pay attention to carpets and rugs. Make sure handrails on stairs are in good repair, and things are easily in reach in the kitchen. And make sure there is good lighting and light switches or lamps are easily within reach of the bed.
Physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to prevent falls, Davis said. This can mean just walking, which doesn’t require equipment, “just a good pair of shoes.”
“Tai chi is a great evidence-based program,” she added.
Also, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about whether any of your medications might increase a risk of falling. And, since vision plays a role, make sure you’re getting an annual eye exam. When outdoors, wear hat or sunglasses to control the glare. In adverse weather, and in winter, be cautious, she said.
“Leaves can be slippery as well” in the fall, she said.
Francie Kasmarek, fitness and wellness director at 50 North, said the organization also offers classes and programs to assist in preventing falls.
“One of the biggest fears that older adults have is the fear of falling and not being able to get up,” she said.
She said 50 North’s classes focus on balance, strengthening, endurance and flexibility, as well as techniques to help get off the floor if a fall does happen.
A goal is to strengthen muscles, as well as improving balance.
This includes a twice-a-year “Matter of Balance” class that focuses on preventing falls, staying “steady on your feet,” and learning techniques to safely get up if you do fall. There are also strength training exercise classes, water exercise class, and “Delay the Disease” classes for participants with Parkinson’s.
Kasmarek said they see seniors gain confidence after taking classes.
“We get to hear the stories,” she said.
Seniors have told her, for example, “how they were able to do things with their grandkids,” like throw a ball to them without worrying they’d fall over.
Kasmarek said University of Findlay physical therapy and occupational therapy students also come to 50 North to do evaluations on members in regards to fall prevention, and are “just amazing.”
Also, University of Findlay pharmacy students come in periodically to speak with seniors about their medications. This is important, because medication side effects may cause a senior to be off balance.
The ERS program started with a safety grant from the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation, and is also funded by 50 North program fees. The ERS are available at a reduced price for those who meet income guidelines. To sign up, Hancock County residents age 50 and older can call the outreach department of 50 North at 419-423-8496.