Personal safety is a concern from the moment a person is born. For infants there are car seats, baby monitors, instructions on positions for sleep, and specific regulations for crib construction. The toddler age has guidelines for toy sizes, plugs for electrical outlets, protection against falls as they learn to walk and security for cabinet doors. As children grow we add bicycle helmets, knee pads, booster seats for cars, and stranger danger lessons. When they become teenagers and young adults, lessons begin for safe driving, personal safety, and seat belts, seat belts, seat belts. Adults practice all the safety measures and the precautions necessary to protect their children around household projects, chemicals, fireplaces, and tools.

What about safety measures for seniors? In my time spent with this age group I have come to realize they are the new “I am invincible” generation – much more so than teenagers. Discussions of safety and prevention usually end in either “I do not need to worry about that yet” or “I am always careful”. Too often assistance is refused; a fall occurrs and at minimum, independence stopped. Basic safety awareness and assistance can prevent falls and life threatening injuries.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one out of three adults aged 65 and older falls each year and these falls are the main cause of death due to injury. In 2009 2.2 million older adults were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to a fall and one-fourth of these were admitted to the hospital. Injuries resulting from falls affect mobility, independence, and can contribute to early death. Seniors aged 75 and older that fall are 4-5 times more likely to be admitted for a year or longer to a long-term care facility than seniors aged 65-74 who experience a fall.

Many factors contribute to the risk of falls as we age. Changes in eyesight, hearing, and muscle strength; chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease; and problems with thyroid, blood vessels or nerves can all affect balance and reflexes. Medications can cause dizziness or weakness.

In January 2011, the American Geriatric Society and the British Geriatric Society jointly issued their latest guidelines on fall prevention for seniors living at home (http://www.americangeriatrics.org/press/news_press_releases/id:1545). Many years of research have revealed several new recommendations. Vitamin D is now recommended for maintaining seniors’ balance and specific exercises such as tai chi, strength and cardiovascular training are identified to reduce fall risk.

Falls can be prevented. Stay active, have your physician or pharmacist review medications for side effects or interactions, have your eyes and hearing checked regularly, get plenty of sleep, and get up slowly after eating or lying down. If a cane or walker has been recommended to help with balance or strength, it should be used and rubber soled low healed shoes are suggested.

Increase the safety of your home. Sturdy handrails should be on all stairways and used for guidance. Make sure lighting is adequate, nightlights are kept on, spills are immediately cleaned up, carpets are flat and affixed to the floor, and wires and cords are out of the walking paths. If a step stool is needed make sure it is stable, not too high, and has a handrail.

Griswold Special Care is available to perform a free home safety check minimizing the risk of falling. The older we get an ounce of prevention is worth many more pounds of cure.