Deck The Halls and Prevent Falls

By Bill Case | In Fall Prevention, Holiday, Shopping | on December 2, 2013

As a physical therapist for over 30 years, I have found that the holiday season has no age, sex or socioeconomic bias when it comes to falling. The concern, is not so much the injury, but to the extent of the disability created and who ultimately is affected.

Have you ever been holiday shopping, tripped and fallen carrying several big bags at once? Have you attended a holiday function, wearing those gorgeous high heels, and taken a spill? Or do you know someone who has fallen off a ladder or tripped and fallen carrying heavy luggage down the stairs? If not, I’m sure you know someone who has tripped and fallen over those awkwardly placed extension cords, just to get the lights in the right place.

These are just a few scenarios I’ve heard over the years, which takes no prisoners when it comes to who will fall. But the fact remains, how devastating is it to your health and social schedule?

If you are a housewife, businessman or student and you fall, sustaining a cut, bruise or even a fracture, you seek medical attention and make the necessary adaptations and continue with your day. If surgery is required, you circle your wagons and call on family and friends to help navigate the many daily changes and you deal with all the inconveniences.

But what about the older adult after a fall? Falling is the number one cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for people over 65 years of age. Every 15 seconds a senior is seen in the emergency room for a fall-related injury. Those who fall are two to three times more likely to fall again. Each week, there are more than 30,000 adults over the age of 65 that are seriously injured by falling. Each week, nearly 250 older adults will die as a result. Falling is not an inevitable result of aging. Many, if not most, of all adult falls are preventable.

Family members and friends are ultimately affected by the long term disability from an older adult fall. Once independence is gone, social gatherings are diminished and physical activity is limited, then a heavy burden is placed on the family unit. Now is the time to seek out the preventable steps for senior falls. It’s easy, cheap and has long term dividends to keeping Mom or Dad healthy, active and social.

Start off with having their medications checked for side effects which may cause dizziness, check vision every year to prevent unnecessary trips, exercise at least 10 minutes a day –everyday because “motion is the lotion for the body” and check the home for safety features. I recommend, at the very basic level, hand grab bars in the shower after the age of 65 years. It’s never to early to start with prevention.

We love our holiday and family times together. It will always be stressful meeting those holiday deadlines whether physically, mentally or emotionally. So, take a deep breath and relax. Stop and think before you climb that ladder, wear those high heals or carry that extra bag and say “No”, not this time.

A turtle will eventually succeed, by just sticking his neck out. So, go the extra mile this holiday season to first, take care of yourself, then extend a loving hand to those around you.

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-Physical Therapist 32 yrs. with 19 years in private practice -University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston,TX. - Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy- 1982 -Post graduate Sports Physical Therapy Specialist --1987 -Inventor: Diagonal Rotary Patterning Machine, Patent 1988 -Lecture: on orthopedic injuries-nationally and internationally -Co-author: for SPORTS PHYSICAL THERAPY -Writer: for The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Self, Men's Health, Fitness and Prevention magazines

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39 Comments to "Deck The Halls and Prevent Falls"

  • rocketfish says:

    December 4, 2013 at 9:44 pm -

    I love this quote – “motion is the lotion for the body”. 🙂 While visiting the parents over the holidays, I will be sure to check the meds to see if any mention dizziness, and also inquire as to their last eye exam. These are great tips Bill, and are easy to follow through on. I have already taken the advice in one of your other articles and arranged to have grab bars installed in the bathroom.

  • felice206 says:

    December 8, 2013 at 2:49 am -

    I think this is excellent advice. I always check in on my older family members and friends to ensure that their sidewalks are clear of snow – Colorado here and we usually have terrible snow/ice around this time of year and I am terrified that one of them could fall and seriously hurt themselves. I will have to make sure to pass this info on to them, so they realize that it is better not to rush during the holiday season.

    1. theshaynee says:

      January 16, 2014 at 6:55 pm -

      I can’t imagine having to deal with snow that much. I live in the South, so we have maybe a foot of snow once a year if we’re lucky. And my grandparents are clumsy enough without the extra help.

  • Foxy says:

    December 10, 2013 at 2:42 am -

    When my grandmother started falling we did a full home check. Once she started falling, it happened over and over. She eventually passed from a stroke. We knew she was a fall risk. We checked all of her carpets to make sure they were secure. Rugs she would not part with were fastened down with double sided rug tape. We checked all of the extension cords and wires to make sure nothing would come out. The home has to be the most common place for a fall, so it is important to fall proof it.

    1. dieselfit says:

      December 11, 2013 at 9:29 am -

      That is a terrible thing that has happened to your grandmother. It’s always the home that starts with the safety and prevention of such things from happening. What do you think you should have done to prevent the falls that she had?

    2. theshaynee says:

      January 16, 2014 at 6:57 pm -

      Really sorry to hear about your grandmother. 🙁 It sounds like your family took really good care of her. The rug tape is a really good idea. You guys did a really good job of protecting her. It’s true that once it happens, it just happens over and over from there.

  • pathwise says:

    December 18, 2013 at 7:14 am -

    The key to not having any unfortunate accidents from happening is to make sure you know your limits and stick to them.

    I know that is is difficult to realize that we can’t always do what we used to be able to do, but by being able to think about things like this and not put yourself into a compromising situation, it will ensure that you don’t take a sudden fall that can end up causing a lower quality of life.

    1. theshaynee says:

      January 16, 2014 at 6:58 pm -

      I think this is my grandmother’s problem. She doesn’t realize that she can’t do everything that she used to. She’s pretty feisty so telling her no is never easy either.

  • Fit4living says:

    December 21, 2013 at 7:54 am -

    It’s so true that the winter and the holiday season can be especially risky times. The snow and ice can wreak havoc on our sense of balance. It’s also very easy to become absentminded when there is so much to do. When we are surrounded by family members and friends that we may not have seen in awhile, we can easily get caught up in the moment and slip. Exercising regularly is one of the best ways to maintain a better sense of balance and a more alert mind.

  • maxwellsabwa says:

    December 23, 2013 at 5:59 am -

    Succumbing to an injury can ruin your holiday season and that of your family. One reason I also think that such accidents are so common during this period is that people subconsciously let their guard down when they are in a festive mood. I’m also sure that alcohol also plays a role in the high occurrence of falls in the home among seniors.

  • Psybe says:

    December 31, 2013 at 6:12 pm -

    It’s hard this time of year. It’s much harder to move and when it happens, it’s rough. It helps to know your limits and what is too much.

  • lupitabaires says:

    January 2, 2014 at 10:01 pm -

    Where I live, there is snow for the majority of winter, so taking care of the stairs in the front can be a lot of trouble, but definitely necessary. It’s not only to prevent falls, but to make it easier for the elderly to get out of the building safely in case of any emergency. Not only that but I’d hate to feel like I can go outside just because the stairs are completely covered. I can’t imagine how those with reduced mobility feel. Thanks for your advice!

  • theshaynee says:

    January 13, 2014 at 7:34 pm -

    All this is incredibly true. My grandmother is usually in a cast of some kind. In the past four years, we haven’t had an injury-free year. She is normally tripping (like she did this past time at Christmas) or she loses her balance and falls. As a diabetic, it’s hard for her any time she gets hurt but especially if it’s a break. The trouble is she is not very active at all. 90% of the time, she is in her chair watching her TV. I’m not even 30 yet and I can tell a difference if I’ve been up and moving around all day instead of just sitting there. I can’t imagine being her age and not moving around at all. I’m really going to have to show her this.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 16, 2014 at 6:07 pm -

    Any injury occurring during holiday seasons are a total turn off.Its is always advisable to take great caution.This would ensure that the vacation was enjoyable and lived to the full. It would cost us nothing putting some responsibility and caution in whatever we do.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm -

    The prevention of falls poses a challenge to carers and healthcare in general. Standard 6 in the National Service Framework (NSF) for the elderly was to reduce the number of falls which result in serious injury and ensure effective treatment and rehabilitation for those who have fallen.Subsequent Department of Health strategies, including the latest guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have emphasised the importance of this. Current estimates are that falls cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion per year.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 16, 2014 at 8:20 pm -

    Falls can be devastating to the affected individual but are also expensive to manage. In particular, when associated with fracture of the proximal femur, they carry a high morbidity and mortality. Even lesser falls lead to loss of self-confidence and reduced quality of life. This can also have significant economic consequences because of the cost of inpatient care and also loss of independence and the cost of residential care.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm -

    Recurrent falls are defined as those occurring at least three times a year. Comorbidity is a serious problem both in terms of contributing to the cause of the fall and to the outcome. This is one reason why mortality three months after a fall is so high.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 16, 2014 at 8:23 pm -

    Risk of injury It is also instructive to examine the risk factors for fracture of the proximal femur. In so doing this reveals risk factors not just for falls but for falls resulting in injury. Again an individual may have several risk factors. These include:
    Weak bones
    With increasing age, conditions which predispose to weakness and fracture occur – for example:
    Paget’s disease of bone
    Metastases (to bone)

  • elidbugg says:

    January 16, 2014 at 8:25 pm -

    The scope for prevention can be appreciated by considering some of the common conditions and risk factors predisposing to falls in the elderly. From this, the wide range of preventative measures and treatment possibilities can be appreciated. Accurate assessment and diagnosis are clearly essential to prevent falls.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 16, 2014 at 8:29 pm -

    Power and balance
    Rising from a chair and walking around the room require muscular power, proprioception and balance. Inactivity, perhaps associated with joint pain, as in osteoarthritis, results in weakness of muscles, loss of joint position sense and loss of balance. Hence:

    Patients should be encouraged to keep active and to exercise as much as possible. This strengthens muscles and maintains joint position sense and balance. A Cochrane review found some evidence to support certain types of exercise (eg, those directed towards improving balance and gait) whilst there was insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions about general physical activity.[11]
    Elderly people who have had a fall particularly may lose confidence and become less active.
    Activity must be encouraged – for example, after retirement.
    Activity may have to be modified to suit the individual’s needs and fitness.
    A wide variety of activities can be undertaken, often with the secondary gain of social contact.
    Activities which develop power and balance are particularly helpful.
    Establishing a network of local exercise-related activities and organizations may be helpful. Meetings and activities can be promoted with, for example, advertisements in the practice.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:42 am -

    Falls are the leading cause of death, injury and hospital admissions among the elderly population. In fact, one out of every three seniors falls every year. Last year alone, more than 1.6 million seniors were treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:44 am -

    Lack of physical activity. Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased bone mass, loss of balance, and reduced flexibility.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:44 am -

    Impaired vision . This includes age-related vision diseases, as well as not wearing glasses that have been prescribed.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:45 am -

    Medications. Sedatives, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotic drugs, plus taking multiple medications are all implicated in increasing risk of falling.
    Diseases. Health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis cause weakness in the extremities, poor grip strength, balance disorders and cognitive impairment.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:45 am -

    Environmental hazards. One third of all falls in the elderly population involve hazards at home. Factors include: poor lighting, loose carpets and lack of safety equipment.However, falls are not an inevitable part of growing older. Many falls can be prevented, by making the home safer and using products that help keep seniors more stable and less likely to fall.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:52 am -

    Even when wet, wood deck surfaces typically present less risk for slipping than composite deck boards — unless they become dirty and neglected. Mold, mildew, moss, pollen or algae growing on a wooden deck in the shade or in a moist climate can become slippery, posing a special risk to elderly homeowners or guests. A prudent maintenance schedule can help keep the deck clean and reveal the natural grain of the wood, providing traction and slip-resistance. For best results, wait until a predicted high-pressure system of several days’ duration to assure dry, clear weather.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:52 am -

    Sweep leaves and debris off your deck as they accumulate, especially after coastal storms. This prevents the buildup of moisture on the wooden deck surface and the concomitant growth of mold and algae. Pry debris out from the gaps between deck boards with a putty knife. Clean off stubborn areas of mildew with a pressure washer, applied with a broad nozzle in a quick fanning motion to avoid gouging the wood.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:53 am -

    Clean off mold and mildew if present each fall and spring by mixing 1/3 cup of powdered laundry detergent — a detergent not containing any ammonia, which combines dangerously with bleach — and 1 quart of bleach with 3 gallons of water. Alternatively, mix a commercial deck cleaning product. Wet-mop the mixture on the deck boards and let it sit for 15 minutes, or apply it with a pump sprayer. Scrub the deck boards with a deck scrub brush attached to a wood handle or with a stiff broom. Rinse thoroughly with a hose and allow to dry.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:53 am -

    Apply a water-repellent preservative or stain after allowing the deck to dry for at least 48 hours. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which typically call for simply brushing or rolling the product on the deck boards on a day without either harsh sunlight, which evaporates the product, or the threat of rain. Add mildewcide to the preservative or stain if you live in a humid or rainy area.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:54 am -

    Paint on a marine-grade anti-slip decking product for wooden decks especially prone to becoming slippery. This product contains sand or aggregates suspended in a paint or resin, which you can apply with a paint roller with a thick-nap roller cover. Apply self-adhesive strips containing a coarse grit surface to the dried deck steps at their front edges for additional purchase on the steps.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:47 pm -

    Safety Bed Rails
    Larger safety bed guard rails for elderly are primarily designed to keep people from rolling or falling out of bed

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm -

    Bed rails are metal or plastic bars positioned along the side of a bed, also commonly known as side rails. The rails may extend the length of the bed or less, such as a quarter or half length. Some people use bed rails to help pull themselves up, turn in bed, or to get out of bed. Others may use a bed rail thinking it will prevent an older adult from falling out of bed or keep an individual with dementia from getting out of bed and wandering.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm -

    Some bed rails are attached to the bed as part of a “bed system.” Bed rails that are part of a bed system are found on hospital beds, in most nursing homes and in medical supply companies that rent hospital beds for use at home. There are also portable bed rails that can be purchased by consumers directly and attached to a bed. these can protect the elderly

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm -

    Strangulation or asphyxiation: Older adults can get trapped in the gap between the bed rail and the mattress. The individual can roll into that gap and be too weak, frail or confused to change position. The mattress may press against the elder’s chest, preventing the individual from breathing. This can quickly result in death. Elders can also get trapped between the rails and suffocate.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm -

    Severe injury: When individuals who are confused or have dementia want to get out of bed and bed rails block their way, they frequently try to climb over the rails. This can lead to a fall, hitting their heads, and a serious injury. Injuries such as cuts, abrasions and bruises can also result when an older adult becomes entrapped.

  • elidbugg says:

    January 17, 2014 at 3:14 pm -

    Safe steps, stairs, hand railings, and guard railings. Falls are perhaps the most common source of injury in the home, especially among the elderly. Missing, loose, or hard-to-grasp handrails, thick carpet on steps (use non-skid surfaces), uneven step riser heights, too-small stair tread depth or width, damaged stair tread nose, are examples of common problems

  • Diane says:

    July 24, 2015 at 10:19 pm -

    This article has some great information. Falls happen frequently, even when people are being careful, and many times at the holidays, we are rushing about, trying to cram in as many activities as we can, cooking and baking extra, driving to place we may not usually go. We may be in unfamiliar territory, and tumble down stairs we weren’t expecting, or could be staying somewhere new, and slip and fall in the tub. Because we can be so distracted with all of the activities and hustle and bustle, it’s even more important to pay attention to our surroundings, and focus on what we’re doing. Hopefully doing so will help us decrease the chances of an incident, and lead to a more enjoyable holiday season.

  • GemmaRowlands says:

    July 29, 2015 at 11:27 am -

    I have fallen over a couple of times when I have been out and about due to the amount that I have been carrying, and I know that I am usually quite good on my feet – so it really does make me worry about older people, those who are less steady than me, and how they would be able to cope. I always take my elderly relatives Christmas shopping, as this means that it is less likely that they will fall, as I know that I am there to be able to help them if they need it. This can help a heck of a lot, and I know that they appreciate it. Christmas is the season of goodwill, so you should definitely help those in need whenever you can.

  • Tipes99 says:

    August 22, 2015 at 12:12 am -

    Yep, I can attest to this. Not only do I need to be careful when I carry heavy stuff, but also of paper rapping! Those are the most evil thing of all during holiday season. I have fall prey to them too many time to count. Luckily, my grandmother has not had such misfortune like myself. Which I am supper grateful for. I think its make it sadder since holiday like Christmas is the time of the year where good will and luck suppose to be with you. I say this now to those younger generation, if you can help carry just a couple of bags or make sure that your gift rapping are either in front of you or by you and out of the walk way. This way no one will fall prey to it, especially your elderly grandparents. This is supper important because if you fall you can get back up, but if they fall – like this article mention- their chances of getting up are pretty slime. So, make this up coming holiday and everyone after this one a good one. 🙂

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