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Avoiding a fall: How to prevent one of the leading cause of injuries among older adults

by Alanna Martella, Multimedia Journalist

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, millions of people ages 65 and older fall. What’s more, is that just one fall more than doubles a person’s chance of falling again.

Aging is a natural part of life, however, falling is not a natural part of aging.

According to the CDC, in 2014, 29 million seniors took a fall nationwide, but on a local level, falls seem to happen even more frequently.

“Sometimes you don’t know what happened to you and other times, you’re in the process of falling and you catch yourself,” said Marilyn Bradbury, a senior citizen who’s a victim of falling.

The CDC reported that falls are actually the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among those aged 65 years and older.

The Rochester Fire Department gets, on average, 640 calls each year of someone falling.

“We’ll see sprains, we’ll see hip issues and stuff like that. We’ll see wrist issues when people try to fall and try to catch themselves,” said Vance Swisher, the Deputy Chief at the Rochester Fire Department.

Experts say four major factors most often lead to falls: balance impairment or reduced strength, poor vision, medications, and environment.

Swisher added in some common causes of falls RPD sees: “Rugs, grab handles not being in place. Even down to the temperature of the refrigerator when they have some food that maybe is not totally spoiled but not good for the person that addresses their equilibrium and they fall more often.”

Not only can falls hurt physically, but then can also cause an emotional and mental impact.

Most notable when it comes to emotional and mental impacts is FOF, or Fear of Falling.

“Fear of falling really is something that can be traumatic,”  said Lisa Bailey, a physical therapist and also member of the Falls Prevention Coalition. “And again, that can escalate over the years, if someone simply has imbalance, or if they do sustain a fall, they can develop an increased fear of falling, which in effect, and research cites, is a very high risk factor. Because what can happen, is when people become more fearful of falling, they become less active and perhaps hyper-cautious or too cautious. When they become less active, they of course, get weaker and de-conditioned, such that when they do get up to move about, they’re at a much higher risk for falling because of decreased strength and balance. So, it really is kind of a bad cycle that can occur either from imbalance or a fall in the past that can cause a strong fear.”

Fortunately for senior citizens in the Rochester area, there is an organization here to help in fall prevention: the Falls Prevention Coalition.

“Our mission certainly is to bring fall prevention resources, tools, balance screenings, not only to the community, but information to providers to try to reduce our risk and our, kind of, efforts here in the community,” said Bailey.

The Falls Prevention Coalition offers group exercise classes, educational workshops, vision screenings, and more to help senior citizens avoid falling and keep their independence.

Even the brand new 125 LIVE contributes to the coalition.

“Specific to fall prevention, we have functional strength, functional balance, as well as Tai Chi. And additional leg strengthening exercises, as well,” said Ken Baerg, the Aquatics and Fitness Coordinator at 125 LIVE.

Marilyn Bradbury has fallen more than once.

“You kind of feel down on yourself because you know that you aren’t doing the right things to make it not happen,” said Bradbury.

“Oftentimes they’re shaken up, they’re a little bit embarrassed and it can happen on a multitude of reasons,” said Swisher of when he responds to calls of falls.

Bradbury said she has a trusty companion to help her on a daily basis.

“I have my little friend the walker,” laughed Bradbury.

Bradbury and Bailey meet up about three times a week to exercise, to help Bradbury maintain strength.

“Just don’t feel you have to do it fast to be good, in the process of doing the exercising,” said Bradbury.

Bailey also leads the SAIL Program at ExercisABILITIES.

SAIL stands for Stay Active and Independent for Life.

“It’s research-based and people continue it and it provides fitness, balance, and strength training that has gone through some of the testing and studies that show that it helps. And it provides education,” explained Bailey.

The keys to avoiding a fall and staying independent pretty much come down to education and exercise.

“If we have an individual that falls and has to go to the hospital, there’s a high probability that they will never be able to go back into their homes,” said Swisher.

Staying upright makes all the difference when it comes to staying in your own home.

Here are some helpful links to learn more about fall prevention in our area:


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