Thursday, September 8, 2011

Falls Prevention Awareness Day

Patty McKinney, OTR
Falls Prevention Awareness Day will be celebrated on September 23 this year. This national initiative reminds us of the importance of making our homes and surroundings hazard-free, a particularly important consideration for people with disabilities and older adults. Occupational therapy practitioners make the most of this annual observance to educate the public about the role of occupational therapy in falls prevention, and to increase public awareness about how to prevent and reduce falls. Slips, trips, and falls in and around the home are frequently the cause of injuries to older adults, particularly fractures to hips, shoulders, ankles, wrists, and hands. One out of three Americans over the age of 65 sustain a fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of injury and accidental death for adults in this age category. However, implementing a few prevention practices can decrease a person's risk of an unnecessary fall.

Some of the simple, but often overlooked, fall prevention tips and strategies taught by occupational therapists include:
  • Do not walk and talk at the same time. Concentrate on the task of walking and continue the conversation after you've reached a safe place.
  • Wear appropriate footwear. When walking long distances or in unfamiliar areas, wear flat, nonslip shoes. Also wear shoes that are comfortable and fit well.
  • Arrange furniture so that it creates plenty of room to walk freely. If you use a walking aid, ensure that doorways and hallways are large enough to get through with any devices you may use.
  • Install railings in hallways, and grab bars in the bathroom and shower to prevent slipping.
  • Be certain to have adequate lighting throughout your home.
  • Install nonslip strips or a rubber mat on the floor of the tub or shower.
  • Remove throw rugs entirely, or secure them firmly to the floor.
  • Use extra caution when carrying items while walking.
  • Use a nightlight when getting out of bed at night.
  • Stay active to maintain overall strength and endurance.
  • Know your limitations. If there is a task you cannot complete with ease, do not risk a fall by trying to.
Fear of falling can be both a risk factor for falls and a consequence of falling. Occupational therapy practitioners assist older adults to assess whether their fear is based on reality. Based on the assessment, specific precautionary measures, environmental modifications and adaptive equipment may be recommended. Sometimes, fear of falling may be based on lack of confidence and other psychological and social factors. In these situations, occupational therapy practitioners assist older adults to recognize and overcome their fears and problem-solve about how to keep from falling while staying active. Fear of falling can lead to self-limitation in performing activities and tasks that people need to do to remain as independent as possible. This can bring about a cycle where weakness and decreased stamina develop as individuals restrict their participation in activities, leading to further restriction of their engagement in normal daily life.

Staying active and safe are goals that older adults want for themselves: occupational therapists specialize in empowering older adults to do just that. Preventing falls and alleviating the fear of falling are cost effective interventions that promote the safety and well-being of older adults. The profession of occupational therapy focuses on a person’s ability to participate in desired daily life activities or “occupations.” Aging can affect the ability to manage as we continue to live in familiar surroundings or transition to new ones. As people age, occupational therapy practitioners use their expertise to help them to prepare for and perform important activities and to fulfill their roles as community members, family members, friends, workers, leisure devotees, or volunteers.

Patty McKinney, Occupational Therapist, is the owner and operator of Glenwood Springs Harmony House, an assisted living facility with peaceful accommodations and professional, qualified personal caregivers.

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