Take steps to stop falls in­side, out

The Citizens' Voice - - Health Science - BY JANE E. BRODY THE NEW YORK TIMES

It’s that time of year again when safety-con­scious or­ga­ni­za­tions is­sue cau­tion­ary tales about pre­vent­ing falls and, fail­ing that, pro­tect­ing against se­ri­ous in­jury when sud­denly de­scend­ing un­in­ten­tion­ally from the ver­ti­cal.

Even if you think you al­ready know ev­ery­thing you need to know about fall­ing, you’d be wise to read on. Many of us can use a pe­ri­odic kick in the pants to help keep us safe. I know, be­cause I’m one of those prone to do­ing some­thing fool­hardy even while think­ing how dumb it is.

In much of the coun­try, fall in­juries rise dur­ing the win­ter months when walk­ways be­come slip­pery and trip haz­ards are ob­scured by snow, ice or, in some ar­eas, by leaves. Se­nior cit­i­zens, be­ing less ag­ile and more frag­ile, are es­pe­cially at risk. A map of fa­tal falls in the United States, pub­lished in April in the AARP Bul­letin, pro­vides graphic tes­ti­mony: Wis­con­sin and Min­nesota, two of our cold­est states, led the na­tion in deaths from falls among res­i­dents 65 and older.

Here are a cou­ple of steps you can take to avoid slips, trips and falls out­doors when side­walks can some­times re­sem­ble hockey rinks.

Step 1: Check your footwear. Shoes and boots should have slip-re­sis­tant soles (rub­ber or neo­prene, not plas­tic or leather). Or equip them with ex­ter­nal trac­tion cleats, sold un­der brand names like Yak­trax.

Step 2: Take smaller steps, bend for­ward slightly, go slow and walk as flat­footed as pos­si­ble when it’s icy or snowy. Check the steps and side­walk for black ice be­fore go­ing out in the morn­ing, even if only to pick up the pa­per or mail. Do like­wise when step­ping out of a ve­hi­cle. Al­though the air tem­per­a­ture may be above freez­ing, dew or fog can freeze on a colder sur­face.

Re­gard­less of the sea­son, scan the path 6 or more feet ahead of you for trip haz­ards. Avoid car­ry­ing items that block your abil­ity to see the ground in front of you.

Now for the most com­mon place for falls: your home. Most dwellings con­tain a cat­a­log of trip haz­ards, in­clud­ing piles of pa­pers, loose car­pets or floor­boards, ex­ten­sion cords and cloth­ing care­lessly dropped on the floor, not to men­tion wa­ter or grease on the kitchen or bath­room floor. Re­move as many of th­ese as pos­si­ble and wipe up all spills as soon as they hap­pen.

While im­por­tant at any age, th­ese pre­cau­tions are crit­i­cal for the el­derly. Falls are the No. 1 cause of in­jury to seniors, 1 in 3 of whom can ex­pect to fall each year. Too of­ten the re­sult is a de­bil­i­tat­ing frac­ture, loss of in­de­pen­dence or death. Nearly three times as many peo­ple die af­ter fall­ing (some 32,000 a year) than are killed by guns in the United States. Even when the in­jury from a fall is mi­nor, it can cre­ate fear that prompts peo­ple to avoid cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties lest they fall again.

And when walk­ing in­doors, al­ways wear shoes or slip­pers with non­skid soles.

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