The Los Alamos Fire Department is recognizing Sept. 22, National Falls Prevention Day, by offering suggestions to people over 65 on how to prevent injury or death from falls, according to Donna McHenry of the Emergency Medical Services Division.
Adult falls are the leading cause of death and hospitalization for New Mexico residents over the age of 65. In fact, New Mexico has the ninth highest death rate from falls in the country and the alarming rate of adult falls is one of the state’s health priorities. In Los Alamos County between 2010 and 2014, there were 19 fall-related deaths and 148 hospitalizations for people 65 and over.
McHenry said of all the places where fall-related deaths occurred, the home had the highest rates of occurrence. She suggested that people over 65 assess their homes with the help of a family member or friend if needed and make the usually minor changes needed to reduce their risk of falling.
Exercising regularly helps build strength and improves balance and coordination, McHenry said, adding that seniors should ask their doctor about the best type of physical exercise for them.
“Take your time. Get out of chairs slowly and sit for a few minutes before you get out of bed. Make sure you get your balance before you start walking and be aware of your surroundings,” she said.
McHenry said stairs and walking areas in and outside the home should always be kept clear. She suggested removing electric cords, shoes, clothing and other items out of the way of foot traffic and providing adequate lighting indoors and outdoors. Using night lights or a flashlight while going from the bedroom to the bathroom at during the night is also a good idea, McHenry said, as well as having the lights on while going up and down stairs.
Non-slip mats in bathtubs and showers also increase safety and non-slip rugs should always be used on bathroom floors. McHenry suggests using non-slip material under all throw rugs in the home. She advises paying particular attention to uneven pathways and sidewalks outside the home and always using handrails if available both inside and outside.
“Low-heeled, sturdy well-fitting shoes with non-slip soles are the safest for seniors. They are also safer than slippers or socks on a non-carpeted floor,” McHenry said.
LAFD EMS Division Chief Ben Stone commended McHenry’s involvement in the Los Alamos Adult Falls Prevention Coalition which is composed of professionals who volunteer their services to represent public and private sectors. McHenry said the Los Alamos Senior Center, the New Mexico Department of Health, Los Alamos Medical Center, Home Instead, as well as members from other organizations have been a wonderful asset to our senior community and the Coalition.
“Statistics show that one-fourth of Americans over the age of 65 fall each year. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall and every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall,” Stone said. “This is why the Los Alamos Fire Department wants to make people more aware of prevention measures that may be taken.”
Stone said that even falls without injury affect the quality of life of seniors as fear of falling often causes them to limit their activities and social interaction, causing further physical decline as well as depression, isolation and feeling helpless.
Fall prevention resources for seniors and caregivers are available at the Los Alamos Senior Center and online (link).