Falls Prevention Week

senior sceneI fall a lot. It is embarrassing, as I am the mountain-based teacher of the national A Matter of Balance falls prevention classes, which I have facilitated at three locations in the past year in Boulder County. The class is effective, really it is. I am just clumsy and tend to hike without paying enough attention to uneven terrain.

Last week I fell on a concrete sidewalk on the University of Colorado campus when my ankle twisted on a curb higher than the walkway as I chatted with companions. The fall refreshed the triceps injury incurred a few weeks prior when I tripped over some barbed wire trash in the woods and felt the familiar tingling of wrist sprain.

Two summers ago a succession of three falls, the first being a slippery slide down a snowfield into its muddy bottom that sprained my wrists, resulted in trigger finger thumblessness for months. Anyone who has tried to turn a doorknob, tie a shoe, wield a dinner knife, or serve the senior lunch without thumbs will likely be sympathetic.

Falls prevention is more than the obvious avoidable household hazards, like the slippery magazine on the floor that injured my back when I slammed down on the corner of an open filing drawer last winter. It is not just about wearing better footwear than slide slippers in the house (mea culpa). It is more than using handrails on stairs and bathtubs/showers.

For my 87-year-old father, it includes slowing down just enough to actually ensure that each foot is properly planted on whatever uneven trail surface he is on before shifting his weight for the next tricky foot placement, and it includes picking his feet up in a higher marching step to avoid sidewalk cracks, trail rocks, and tree roots.

His balance has improved by exercising more in a variety of classes and practicing on trails, where many small muscles engage to accommodate uneven surfaces. He always has hiking poles and company on trails, in case an error crashes him to the ground.

Others may need to assess a variety of physical and medical concerns to prevent falling. Ensuring glasses are not only the correct prescription but the lenses are fitted correctly so various lines of vision are clear for specific tasks helps us to judge distances better for ground hazards and stairs. Some conditions or medications may cause dizziness and it is worth discussing with a doctor whether a different medication may solve this.

Last year during National Falls Prevention Week, Nederland Area Seniors launched an eight-week falls prevention class attended by more than a dozen participants. At lunch, our seniors identified at least three dozen ways we could prevent falls and won small prizes for all the great ideas. This year, we celebrate the success of all those who have avoided falls and encourage their continued vigilance in maintaining safe and healthy lifestyles.

One of the most important ways to prevent falls is to stay active. Never let the fear of falling reduce physical exercise. This holds true even for clumsy folks like me. In A Matter of Balance class, we teach exercises for ankle, leg and hip strength plus wrist and arm strength for catching ourselves when we do fall to avoid head and torso injuries.

Key to our balance and the agility of our extremities is our core strength. Maintaining continuous awareness of our torso and abdomen helps create the infrastructure we need for our limbs to function well and our nervous system to connect them to the brain for rapid response.

At our senior lunch on Wednesday, Sept. 25, Physical Therapist Germaine Weaver will introduce the concept of “Engaging the Core” and demonstrate a few simple exercises we all can do to help maintain our best balance and base for building the strength we need to function well and reduce falls. Join us for lunch at noon (reservations required by 4 p.m. Monday at 303-258-0799) or attend the presentation only at 12:30 p.m.

Also at lunch both Monday and Wednesday next week, Dennis Whalen offers falls risk assessment consultations at no charge. Additional appointments are available before and after lunch on Wednesday. Call the NAS office at 303-258-0799 to guarantee a time slot to meet with him.

Please note: The NAS Miners’ Days Pancake Breakfast originally scheduled this weekend, Sept. 21 and 22, has been postponed. People are busy helping others in need after the flood disasters. Please watch this space for announcement of a new date for the breakfast later this season.

Everyone is invited to the Nederland Area Seniors luncheon at the Nederland Community Center at noon. A donation of $4 is requested from those over 60 years of age and $8.25 all others, but no seniors are turned away due to inability to pay. Please make reservations by 4pm Friday for Monday lunch and 4pm Monday for Wednesday lunch at 303-258-0799.

Monday, Sept. 23, Turkey Pot Pie w Peas/Carrots/Potatoes, Green Beans, Cranberry/Apple.
Wednesday, Sept. 25, Tuna Salad Wrap w Lettuce/Tomato, Vegetable Soup, Spinach Salad, Fruit.

Serene Karplus

About the Author: Serene Karplus – is the Executive Director of the Nederland Area Seniors, Inc. (NAS) which assists senior citizens in enhancing their quality of life, enabling them to live a life of respect and honor.  This is accomplished through the facilitation of nutrition, transportation, education, recreation, socialization and outreach programs for all seniors living in the Greater Nederland Area. Serene is a contributor to The Mountain-Ear with her Senior Scene column.