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Family Living Focus: First day of fall marks Falls Prevention Awareness Day

Falls are the leading cause of injury related emergency department visits for older adults, the major cause of hip fractures, and responsible for more than half of fatal head injuries. Numerous states and countries worldwide are now coalescing to address this growing public health issue; many are working closely with occupational therapy practitioners as key contributors to reducing falls.

This year’s theme, Take a Stand to Prevent Falls, seeks to unite professionals, older adults, caregivers, and family members to play a part in raising awareness and preventing falls in the older adult population. Forty-eight states participated in Falls Prevention Awareness Day last year, joining more than 70 national organizations, including the American Occupational Therapy Association, other professional associations, and federal agencies that comprise the Falls Free© Initiative.

Falls are the leading cause of injury and accidental death in adults over the age of 65. Falls and the fear of falling can cause decreased independence and disability. Clutter, inappropriate footwear, poor balance, distractions, and tripping hazards can all contribute to a stumble or fall leading to serious injury and even death. Occupational therapy practitioners play an essential role in reducing fall risk by addressing the physical, cognitive, and environmental factors that can lead to a fall.

If the home or other environment is not supporting the person’s abilities, the occupational therapist can provide an assessment and recommendations to make it safer and encourage participation in meaningful activities.

Following are strategies to reduce your risk of falls:

• Identify and eliminate fall hazards in the home.

• Arrange furniture so that there is plenty of room to maneuver and to create sturdy balance-catching points throughout the home.

• Remove or firmly secure throw rugs.

• Add railings and grab bars in trouble areas.

• Install nonslip strips or rubber mats in tubs and showers and in areas that pose a tripping or slipping risk.

• Add light to dimly lit areas.

• Keep frequently-used items in easily accessible areas. Create a plan for accessing seasonal items stored in hard-to-reach places.

• Consider environmental modifications, assistive technology, or adaptive equipment.

• Consult an occupational therapist for an individualized fall risk assessment.

• Talk to your physician and pharmacist about how medications can affect balance, strength, vision, and fall risk.

• Get an annual eye exam.

• Stay active and participate in regular exercise.

• Maintain a healthy sleep schedule.

Occupational therapy is a skilled health, rehabilitation, and educational service that helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations). Every day across the U.S., occupational therapy practitioners work with older adults and caregivers to educate them on strategies and behaviors to reduce fall risk and facilitate maximum independence. This may include recommending and using home modifications and assistive technology to support aging in place.

Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards including accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential.

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Information adapted from article by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), August 16, 2013.

If you would like more information on “First Day of Fall Marks Falls Prevention Awareness Day” contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus – University of Minnesota at waldn001@umn.edu. Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.

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