“Falls are the leading cause of injury and admission to hospital for seniors.” “Two-thirds of accidental deaths among seniors are related to falls.” These were two sobering messages from Ingrid Otten, a physiotherapist who spoke at the 2nd Academy Winter Forum on January 29, 2020. Ms Otten generously offered to speak after Agnes Makowski had to cancel due to illness.
Ms Otten offered practical tips based on her many years of experience working with seniors at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. She noted that while Canadian winters can make walking outside treacherous, many seniors suffer life-changing falls in their own homes.
Factors that can increase the risk of falling include: muscle weakness, poor balance, poor vision, low-blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, dementia and Parkinson’s.
The most effective way to reduce these risks is to exercise more. “Older adults are the least physically active of any age group. The good news is that seniors have the most to gain from starting an exercise program. It’s never too late!” Ms Otten encouraged. Benefits of cardio and weight training include: improved flexibility, posture, balance and reaction time. It is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of falling, but the fitter you are, if you do fall your injuries are likely to be reduced.
Ms Otten recommended Tai Chi, yoga or dancing to improve balance and posture. Another tip is to have your doctor review your medication at least once a year: as we age many seniors experience a gradual drop in blood pressure. If you have been on blood pressure medication for some years, your dosage may need to be adjusted so your pressure is not too low, which can make you wobbly when you get out of bed quickly.
Rushing to answer a ringing phone; dashing to the toilet; or running to catch a subway train are common causes of falls. One of Ms Otten’s key messages is to walk deliberately, carefully scanning the surface in front of you for obstacles or ice. Remember: if it’s an important phone call, the person will leave a message or phone back. Fracturing your hip to answer a robo-marketing phone call is definitely not worth it!
Ms Otten recommended asking your family doctor for a home safety and accessibility assessment by an occupational therapist to see if fall prevention aids, such as grab bars in your bathroom, are recommended.
There was a lively question and answer session after Ms Otten’s PowerPoint (see link below) with Academy members sharing tips. Priscilla Platt recommended the website RateMyTreads.com which evaluates the best winter boots as tested by the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute of the University Health Network. The 2nd Winter Forum of 2020 provided Academy members with a wealth of practical advice on how to minimize the risk of slips and falls.
Submitted by Ian Darragh