Signs of Sustainability–Independence for Elderly Means Preventing Falls

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Tompkins Weekly 8/23/11

by Teri Reinemann

Independence is one of the primary goals for today’s older adult – to be able to take care of yourself, enjoy life and carry out daily tasks as you have always done. But a serious fall can limit activities of a healthy senior and could lead to more health issues long term. In Tompkins County, falls are the number one reason for EMS calls, with over 1000 falls-related calls per year. The good news is that many falls are preventable. The Tompkins County Falls Prevention Coalition is introducing a falls prevention program in this community, with the goal of reducing falls in older adults.

While falls are a major health care concern, seniors everywhere are discovering that they can control their risk of falling. Falls prevention is easy and there are many things you can do on your own.

If you have a fall or have a fear of falling, talk with your primary care health professional. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the medications you are taking, including prescription and over the counter medicines. And, have your vision checked annually.

Since most falls occur in or around the home, make your home safer. Keep floors and stairs clear of clutter. Remove throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping. Make sure stairways have secure railings and are well lit. Add night lights and make a clear path of travel from the bedroom to the bathroom. Install grab bars and use non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower. Move frequently used kitchen and household items to within easy reach to avoid using step stools. And, wear sturdy, well-fitting, flat-soled shoes.

Daily exercise can make a big difference in your life. Ask your doctor about the best type of exercise program for you. Exercise makes you stronger, increases your balance and helps you feel better.

Taking steps to reduce your risk of falls increases your ability to maintain your current lifestyle, to be the best you can be physically, and to move with more security and confidence in your own home. To help you get started, the Tompkins County Office for the Aging created a Falls Prevention Resource Guide with information on local programs and resources. For more information, contact the Office for the Aging at 274-5482. The Falls Prevention Resource Guide is also available online at

To help you identify fall hazards in your home and find solutions, the Occupational Therapy Geriatric Group at the University at Buffalo developed a Home Safety Self Assessment Tool (HSSAT). The HSSAT guides you room by room to identify problems and provide tips to increase home safety. To request a free copy of the HSSAT, contact the Finger Lakes Independence Center at 272-2433. The HSSAT is also available online at

For information on strength and balance exercise programs in Tompkins County, contact Lifelong at 273-1511. Be sure to speak with your doctor or physical therapist to decide what type of exercise program is appropriate for you.

Falls prevention programs across the nation are proving that individuals 65 and over can age more safely and decrease their risk for a fall. Numerous studies on falls demonstrate the effectiveness of prevention techniques, especially those that can be self managed. So, start today. The benefits of following a few simple falls prevention tips far outweigh the physical and emotional costs of a serious fall.

Teri Reinemann is a Systems Advocate at the Finger Lakes Independence Center, an agency partner of the Tompkins County Falls Prevention Coalition led by the Health Planning Council, a program of the Human Services Coalition, and supported by a grant from the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York.

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