One in three adults over the age of 65 will suffer a serious fall this year. Nearly three-quarters of these falls will occur at home. Falls are the leading cause of injuries, both fatal and nonfatal, in older adults.
Those are but a few of the sobering statistics presented at a Dec. 18 seminar entitled, “Preventing Falls Among Seniors,” sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. The event was held at the YMCA on Northern Boulevard in Flushing.
“It’s a big concern because most of our members are over 65,” said David Lam, a volunteer at Flushing’s Benjamin Rosenthal Prince Street Senior Center, who accompanied a group of about 20 of the center’s members to the seminar.
“We are concerned about falling. We’re here to brush up on how to prevent falling,” he said. Lam was particularly interested in having members of his group learn about precautions while walking in the street, especially on snowy days, such as the one they faced that morning.
“Many seniors have osteoporosis. They must take particular care. They want to learn techniques on how to prevent it,” Lam said.
In addition to exercise, eye exams and other recommendations to prevent falls indoors and outdoors, several tips were offered for being safe in the home, including: remove clutter on the floor; tape down rugs and cords; arrange furniture to widen pathways; keep commonly used items in easy reach; do not use step stools; fix uneven surfaces; use handrails on stairs; avoid wet floors; maintain adequate lighting; and carry a portable phone for easy access.
According to the presentation given by VNSNY staff members, several personal factors contribute to increased risks. Those include weakness in the legs, balance problems, vision problems and cognitive impairment. Depression can also add to an individual’s risk of falling, they said, as can urinary incontinence.
The speakers suggested individuals should take extra precautions when starting new medications or changing dosages.
During the seminar, members of the audience, numbering around 200, were advised to have an eye exam at least once a year. Older adults may have medical conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, that may affect vision and make falls more likely.
VNSNY physical therapist Jeffrey Jue led the audience in a brief exercise routine, stressing the importance of muscle strength in preventing falls. Muscle strength is needed for balance and mobility, Jue noted. To move or walk safely, an individual needs to control the center of gravity and shift weight when necessary.
Several issues were mentioned as possible contributors to mobility problems: visual and auditory distractions, vision limitations, cognition issues, problems with balance, physical weakness, especially in the legs and arms and use of the wrong mobility aid or device.
To improve balance and mobility, several activities were suggested. Those include balance-training programs, walking programs, tai chi, yoga, aerobic exercises, bowling, dancing and gardening.
The presentation suggested that one is never too old to exercise. In fact, exercise was recommended to reduce the fear of falling, as well as to improve strength and cardiovascular health. It is also believed that exercise can decrease depression and improve elimination, digestion and other bodily processes.
As the seminar was about to get underway, Kim said, “We want to highlight safety issues, especially in cold weather. This is an opportunity to learn how to be more safe, how to get from one place to another safely, especially in Flushing, which is so congested.”
In welcoming the audience, Meng said, “This is an amazing event for senior citizens in our community. The timing is interesting, especially because it is slippery outside. Health and safety are number one.”