Accidental falls occur on a regular basis, resulting in death, permanent injury and misery for the injured and their families. Care to prevent injury is paramount during the entire year, but, as we enter the holidays, extra vigilance is necessary due to our propensity to rush, causing careless accidents.
We all have had an Aunt Paula who was putting up her lights on the tree and fell off the tottering chair while trying to place the angel on the very top. Or Uncle Jim, while stapling the lights onto the porch, slipped and fell off the rickety ladder. Both broke their hips and spent the entire holidays (and then some) in the hospital. One of every three people over the age of 65 living in the community falls each year. The chance of falling increases to one in two by the age of 80.
Let me review some of the do's and don't's for the holidays: Do keep the hallways clear from clutter. Don't use the step stool to reach the higher level of the cupboard or to trim the tree. Do resist the temptation of all those extension cords that represent a fire hazard as well as a trip hazard. Don't wear the floppy slippers or long robes that create additional trip hazards. Do tack down the edges of the holiday runners on the floor to avoid tripping. Don't leave spilled fluids (or thawing snow) on the floors. Do maintain good lighting throughout the day and utilize night lights in the bedroom and bathroom. Don't light all the candles for atmosphere; they cut down on the light as well as present a fire hazard. Do wear shoes with non-skid soles and don't sit in low furniture that puts unneeded stress on knees and hips as well as providing challenges to standing without losing balance.
These types of accidents are preventable, and the initial steps begin at home. Tackle the environmental stumbling blocks first. Remove all throw rugs, install grab bars around tubs and toilets, and ensure lights accessible from the bedside are always used for nighttime bathroom trips. Carrying a cordless or cell phone in a pocket or apron at all times is a smart move.
The next preventative steps begin with the healthcare provider of choice. As usual, the first step is consulting your family physician. He or she can help identify fall risks secondary to your medical history and send you to a physical therapist for a consultation. Physical therapists incorporate a clinical balance tool, a test to determine an individual’s risk of falling. They combine the results of the test with their examination and evaluation to devise an appropriate treatment program. Early identification of individuals at risk of falling will prevent an injury as well as improve mobility, endurance, strength and balance.
Dr. Philip Allen, PT, DPT, has more than 38 years of experience as a physical therapist and works for MX Physical Therapy located in the Safeway Shopping Center in Rehoboth. Dr. Allen may be contacted at 302- 266-2230 for any questions relating to reducing fall risk or physical therapy.