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Dr. Zorba Paster: Falls can be deadly for seniors

September 22, 2018

David Stluka Portrait of Dr. Zorba Paster on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 in Oregon, Wis. (Photo by David Stluka)

Ever watch kids play? They fall all the time. My 3-year-old beautiful granddaughter Bella, falls, cries, gets up and with a kiss she stops. And my other beautiful granddaughter Olive is learning to walk. “Fall” seems to be her middle name.

But when seniors fall, they may cry, but they cry for help. They do not bounce at all – they crack. If you break your hip as a senior you have a 25 percent chance of dying within 2 years. Shocking isn’t it? Falls kill.

Wisconsin continues to be in the top five states for hip fracture falls. We don’t know why. Minnesota is nowhere near that number – they are the closest to us ethnically. Yes we can laugh and say it’s the beer and brandy but they consume as much booze as we do but they don’t fall.

Every year at this time I think of falls. Maybe because it is fall. But more likely than that I’m thinking about how when the weather changes we’ll have to be more careful – sliding, slipping and falling is a common problem as it gets darker and wetter.

So what is a person to do?

Step 1: Think.

Most people spend more time thinking about which flat-screen TV they’re going to buy than they do about safety. The first step is to sit down with a pencil and paper and prepare to make a list.

And while you’re thinking let me bring up my next thought – power of attorney for health care. You can download it free. Just search “Wisconsin Medical POA” and you can print out a free copy which is easy to fill out, does not need to be notarized, does not need a lawyer, and just needs your signature.

Are you ready? OK, now go to step 2.

Step 2: Review your physical space.

Do you have nightlights around the house so when nature calls at night you don’t trip in the dark and fall? Are you safe in the shower? Do you need grab bars — good grab bars? What about a shower chair with arms. Do you have non-slip shower shoes? The bathroom is a most common place for serious accidents to occur. Who wants to die by a toilet? Yuck.

Do you have throw rugs around the house? You might need to toss them out or put them away so they don’t become a tripping hazard. And check your staircases. Are there solid railings on both sides to help steady yourself going up and down? You know what my mom said, “Two railings are better than one.”

How about outside spaces? Are they well-lit with safe steps? We just put in new LED bulbs to brighten things up. You can too. Those puppies last a long time.

Go through every space you visit in your home life – inside and out – and check off what you might need to adult-proof your house.

Step 3: Review your physical shape.

When it comes to falls, it only makes sense that balance is an issue. If you’re wobbly, you might need an assistance device such as a cane or a walker. Or you might just need to take a Tai Chi or similar class, perhaps yoga, to improve your balance.

Here’s where advice from knowledgeable people can help guide you to better physical health. Exercise – walking, dancing, swimming, doing the treadmill, bike or elliptical – can help you achieve better strength and cardio fitness. But balance can be more complicated and seeking outside advice helps.

Stay well.

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