Creating a fall-free environment

Submitted by Overlake Medical Center

Judith Schaffer remembers the day five years ago that the cord of an electric blanket in her Sammamish home became a trip wire.

“I was folding clothes at the end of my bed, normally we tucked that cord under the mattress but that day we hadn’t and I turned around too fast,” says the now 83-year old. “I didn’t just fall, I flew from the end of the bed.”

Shaffer’s husband rushed her to the hospital. She had broken her shoulder. While she recovered from that injury, Shaffer learned a painful reminder about the importance of monitoring the home environment.

“A fall can dramatically impact a senior’s life, sometimes permanently,” says geriatrician Dr. Kenataro Nishino with Overlake Medical Center’s Senior Health Clinic in Bellevue. About one in four Americans aged 65 and older falls every year, according to the National Center on Aging. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.

Beth Charvet, a physical therapist with Overlake Medical Center leads community Eastside seminars on fall prevention. She suggests removing cords or area rugs as well as installing handrails near stairs and improving lighting.

“Older people rely on vision more because balance may not be great. So I suggest leaving the light on if a person typically needs to use the bathroom in the night.”

Exercise is important; the American Heart Association recommends seniors get 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity. Physical therapist often assists senior patients recovering from injury or surgery.

“If you walk correctly, every step is therapy,” says Kathy Golic. Physical therapists may work with patients to use bands or body-weight sitting and standing from a chair to build strength and stability.

“Seniors do need to work with their providers though, because balance is complex, it might also involves vision or the inner ear for instance,” says Charvet.

Medication management is also important in preventing a fall, according to Nishino.

“Just as an example, a drug that manages blood pressure might work too well and a patient may get dizzy which can lead to falling.”

Nishino works closely with a team of pharmacists trained in geriatric medicine to review patients’ medication lists.

Now living in a retirement community in Issaquah, Schaffer sometimes uses a cane. Having been an avid hiker as a younger woman, she is working hard to not slow down.

“I may have several health challenges going on, but I am doing what I can to take care of myself and stay active.”