When an older person falls at home, damaged bones may only be the beginning of their worries.

Their independence could be at stake if the right changes to their environment are not made.

Maybe the person lives alone and has no one to help them back up again. Or maybe the price for a hospital is beyond their means.

“When we fall, we stop doing the things we normally do because we’re afraid of falling,” said Steve Sabatini, home health care specialist with local health care provider Kindred at Home.

It’s common for seniors who fall or feel they are at risk of falling to become depressed and isolated, avoiding activities outside the house, said Sabatini. A vicious cycle often forms as elderly residents resign themselves to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, without exercising their muscles making them even more likely to fall.

If you have a loved one who has fallen, they are not alone. In fact, the Oswego County Falls Prevention Plan reported that the hospitalization rate for fall-related injuries for Oswego County adults 65 and older was 1,767.6 per 100,000 on a year-to-year basis.

“(Falling) becomes more and more of a likelihood as we age and it becomes a leading cause of hospitalization,” said Sara Sunday, administrator for the county’s Office for the Aging. “Programming will certainly help bring attention to things to do differently to reduce the chances of falling.”

Falling is directly correlated to age and gender, according to the Falls Prevention Plan, with hospitals treating older women for fall-related incidents at higher rates than any other group.

Those ages 85 and older are hospitalized for falls at a higher rate, 5,178 per 100,000, than those ages 65 to 74. Women 65 and older are about twice as likely to be hospitalized for fall-related incidents, 2,277.1 per 100,000, than their male counterparts, 1,108.6 per 100,000.

If you are worried about the possibility of developing a risk of falling as you get older, there are some signs to look out for. A study by the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that problems with falling begin to manifest as dizziness, loss of feeling in limbs, and difficulty stepping on a curb.

When making your home fall-proof, experts say it’s important to identify the most problematic areas like a restroom or the top and bottom of a staircase. Since a majority of falls happen in the middle of the night on the way to the restroom, Sabatini recommended lighting these areas and clearing them of anything that could possibly trip someone, such as a folded rug or wires.

According to Sabatini, one of the earliest and most common signs that an individual may be in danger of falling is bracing their movement with a wall, a piece of furniture or someone’s shoulder. For this reason, he said installing grab bars is vitally important for certain areas of the house like the restroom, where many seniors need assistance in and out of the bathtub.

During the fall and winter months, slick leaves and icy snow pile on a walkway on the property, potentially covering dangerous obstacles. The Oswego County Office for the Aging recommends regularly removing leaves and snow from porches, sidewalks, driveways and other commonly treated walkways on the property.

 Cheryl Cullinan, director of activities at Bishop’s Commons at St. Luke in Oswego, recommends keeping floors and stairs clear of clutter and to keep stairways and railings secure and well lit. She also said to keep a nightlight and to keep clear the path from the bed to the bathroom.

“Taking medication at the wrong time or taking the wrong medication can cause dizziness,” Cullinan said.

Sunday said the Office for the Aging is offering a seven-week falls prevention program, called “Stepping On,” on Jan. 7 at St. Luke’s Apartments at 131 W. First St. in Oswego. The program moves throughout the county, she said, based on where the needs are greatest.

“If we have a lot of interest in a certain area of the county we’ll work hard so they don’t have to travel,” Sunday said.

Reprinted from The Fulton Valley News