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Avoiding falls a challenge as you get older

You've heard the statistic so many times, your eyes glaze over. But it's true. The biggest cause of injury and disabling trauma to baby boomers are falls. Not big spectacular ones, like tumbling down stadium steps, but simple ones at home - a slip in the tub during a shower, where you get a brain injury from hitting your head on the faucet. A sprained ankle from getting out of bed and tripping over something on the floor.

One reason we fall more as we get older is that balance deteriorates. You need muscles for good balance, and a lot of boomers get physically lazy as they age. They do less physical activity, and the vicious cycle begins: less exercise means weaker muscles and weaker bones. So there's not enough muscle for good balance, and the bones also get so much weaker that they are more prone to break in a fall.

I won't waste your time or mine by encouraging you to join a gym or go for a daily walk. If you're not already exercising, you probably won't start. But I will quote the wise words of orthopedic surgeon and multi-gold medal Olympian Eric Heiden, who says, "Be proactive. Do things to prevent falls and stop them from happening. For example, one place where a lot of people fall are on throw rugs. Don't have those in your home, or if you do want an area rug, tape it down firmly." He mentions using the double sided tape made especially for loose little rugs.

Another danger to eliminate, according to Dr. Heiden, is the slippery bottom of the tub. "Put a rubber mat on the tub floor, and make sure it won't slip around. If the mat is secure, you'll have a lot less chance of slipping and falling," he says. Of course, remember that if the mat isn't scrubbed every so often, it will get slippery from dirt and the oils in conditioners and shower gels - and if it's slippery, the only thing the mat will be good for is to cushion your fall a little bit when it happens.

It may also be a good thing to take a second look at the area around your bed. Are there spindly little tables that will collapse if you fall on them? Sharp-cornered tables very close to the bed? Top heavy lamps that can fall over easily - perhaps on you? Dr. Heiden says to move anything that can cause injury so it isn't right beside your bed.

By taking steps in advance to prevent falls, you keep your physical ability. Heiden says you may never be the same after a fall. "Where you were once active outside and at home, afterwards, you may only be able to be active at home - you have to be more cautious outside; perhaps even use a cane," he says.

If you do fall, NEVER stick your arm out straight to stop the fall. That will only dislocate your shoulder or break your wrist. Instead, bend your arm, holding your hand close to your body. That will allow most of the impact to be shared over the larger area of your body, rather than the three bones of your narrower arm.

By thinking about falls BEFORE they happen, you can do a lot to minimize or even eliminate them. As you get older (You DO plan on getting older, right?) you'll be very glad you did.

Wina Sturgeon is an active boomer based in Salt Lake City who mountain bikes, rides BMX, skates on both ice blades and wheels, lifts weights and skis to stay in shape



 
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