VNSNY talks fall prevention for seniors
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 10/19/2012, 12:30 p.m.
In a program titled "Strong Foundations," the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) is educating the city's seniors on how to watch themselves and their environments to avoid potential falls.
Joe Gallagher, physical therapist, DPT, and manager of rehab education with VNSNY, spoke with the AmNews about the program and things that seniors need to look out for, providing some personal experience with the issue.
"Sometime not too long ago, my father was over visiting my kids, and when he bent down to kiss one of the kids goodbye, he lost his balance and he almost fell," said Gallagher. "He caught himself, but he's 72. I talked to him about doing some of these things to improve his balance so that he wouldn't have a fall, so it definitely helps him."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year one in every three adults ages 65 and older falls. Older people are more susceptible to injury when they fall and it's harder for the body to recover at an older age. According to the CDC, people 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely than those age 65 to 74 to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.
So what did Gallagher recommend to his father that other seniors should know about fall prevention? It first starts with knowing what to look for. Gallagher said that the eight things that a senior and his or her doctor must focus on are medical history, medication, vision, home environment, footwear, muscle strength, balance and how they're currently walking.
"Medication is a big one," said Gallagher. "One of the major ones is looking at a senior's medication regimen. There's so many different side effects where some of these medications can lead to falls. A lot of side effects of some of these medications include dizziness. Seniors [sometimes] have different doctors and specialists and they might be taking duplicate medications."
Gallagher took the same approach to vision. He told the AmNews that a senior's eyesight needs to be evaluated on a yearly basis by doctors. He worried about seniors walking the streets and having bad depth perception when stepping off the curb of a sidewalk.
"Your prescription might be changing and your vision isn't what it was a year ago," Gallagher said.
Home environment and footwear were also huge on Gallagher's list of important things to check. VNSNY's program has the physical therapist or nurse come to the senior's home and check for potentially dangerous places in the house that could lead to a fall. "Clutter, rugs, electrical cords running across the floor, lighting in the home" are some of things Gallagher said the nurses check for.
"Yes, you know your home, we get used to our home," said Gallagher. "But because we're used to it, we might not be aware of dangers in front of us."
The home environment recommendations centered on floor surface, but the surface of one's footwear can determine the potential for a fall as well. The VNSNY states that wearing socks, slippers or going barefoot may increase a senior's chances of a dangerous fall. So what should your parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt wear around the house instead?
"Start wearing a safer, rubber-soled shoe," said Gallagher. "Have a therapist look at your shoes."
Gallagher said that issues of balance and muscle strain can be easily fixed with certain exercises since muscles still have a good chance of getting stronger regardless of a person's age. With exercises available to improve balance like tai chi and yoga and the aforementioned steps, Gallagher believes that a senior can enjoy daily activities and still be careful of the environment.
So how are they getting the word out about this program?
"Everything from newspapers and periodicals about the program," said Gallagher. "We've done community events in different neighborhoods around the city and addressed seniors about how they can decrease the risk of falls. We get a referral from a family member or a doctor who's worried about an at-risk patient."
Interested parties can contact the VNSNY at vnsny.org.