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Walking, tai chi, weight-bearing exercises and water workouts, such as water volleyball, will improve strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. (Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Kevin Hudson)

Take steps to prevent falls among older adults

May is Older Americans Month …

STARKVILLE, MISS. -- Preventable falls can lead to catastrophic problems for older adults, so it is important to be proactive.

David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi University Extension Service and researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said falls send more than 2 million senior adults to emergency rooms every year. A fall, even for a healthy individual, can trigger a series of problems and the loss of independence.

One out of three older adults falls each year, Buys said, but less than half tell their health care providers that they have fallen.

“Older adults should exercise regularly, have regular checkups with their primary health care provider, as well as with an eye care provider, and reduce fall risks in the home,” he said. “Furthermore, they should maintain a healthy diet including foods rich in calcium and vitamin D so that they keep their bones strong and lower their risk of hip fractures. Women, especially, should be screened for osteoporosis.”

Buys said making a list of concerns, symptoms or any health changes before a doctor’s appointment is important.

“Being prepared with the right questions at the visits is more important than just showing up,” he said. “Older adults should be sure to ask the doctor to review their medicines to assess for any that may cause side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness, or if there are any that should not be taken together.”

Buys recommended eye exams at least once a year.

“If there are changes in vision, older adults should update eyeglass prescriptions to maximize their vision. Some older adults need corrective lenses for both short and long distances. If that’s the case, consider getting both the bifocals and a second pair with single vision distance lenses for activities such as walking outside.”

Ann Twiner, an Extension agent in Sunflower County, said there are certain exercises older adults can do to strengthen their bodies.

“Walking, water workouts, tai chi and weight-bearing exercises are all good exercises that will improve strength, balance, coordination and flexibility,” she said. “Talk to a health care provider to figure out the best physical activity for specific needs.”

Providing a safe environment around the home can help prevent falls.

“Keep the stairs and walk-ways clear of clutter, improve the lighting in your home and use night-lights,” Twiner said. “Also, use nonslip mats in the shower/bathtub; install grab bars on the walls next to the bathtub, shower, and toilet; and wipe up any spills immediately. Make sure to wear sturdy, well-fitting, low-heeled shoes with nonslip soles. When choosing rugs, use only throw rugs with rubber, nonskid backing and consider using double-sided tape to prevent tripping.”

Traveling to other places can be hazardous for older Americans. Twiner said there are precautions to take to prevent falls while traveling.

“Take your time. Make sure you have proper fitting shoes,” she said. “Take a night-light with you or leave a small light on. Also, take a shower nonslip mat with you.”

Released: May 6, 2015
Contacts: Dr. David Buys
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