Last Thursday, in the gymnasium of the Taino Towers housing complex in East Harlem, VNSNY CHOICE, a nurse-led health plan for Medicaid and/or Medicare eligible New Yorkers by the not-for-profit Visiting Nurse Service of New York, gave a free workshop and presentation to the neighborhood’s elderly on a sometimes overlooked issue: how to prevent falls and the injuries that occur as a result.
Dr. Eileen Bach, VNSNY’s director of rehabilitation quality assurance and education services, spoke with the AmNews prior to the talk about the importance of seniors knowing what they can do to reduce the risk of falling.
“As a clinician and a physical therapist, I’ve done research on falls and, working in home health care, it’s very clear that many older adults who have an injury have that injury because they fell,” said Bach. “To me it’s a really important piece of knowledge.
“None of us can make ourselves younger, but there are other factors that we can be proactive about and hopefully lower our risk of falls by knowing about it,” she said.
According to VNSNY Choice, every 17 seconds, a senior is taken to the emergency room because of a fall. And 70 percent of those falls happen at home. This is what brought New York State Sen. Bill Perkins out to deliver some words to those in attendance.
Perkins told the AmNews that his experiences with his mother made this talk a no-brainer for him.
“My mother is amongst the senior citizens, and she’s had her own falls that we’ve had to deal with,” said Perkins. “[We had to] help her understand her vulnerability, be a little more conscientious about keeping her walker and or cane near her and about how she should be crossing the street. I know that what she’s suffering isn’t unique. We have a huge elderly population in my district, which includes not only Central Harlem, but also El Barrio here in East Harlem and even the Upper West Side.
“They are the most active members of our community, generally speaking, and they have to readjust their speed limit, so to speak,” stated Perkins.
Bach echoed similar sentiments.
“Sometimes, between all of the different health care providers we may have in our lives and how busy we are, we don’t always stop and take a spot check like ‘Now that I’m 75, how am I going?’” Bach said. “‘I can’t really touch my toes anymore, I can’t really turn around and reach for that thing like I used to. I can’t see as well or maybe I’m not moving as well.’ Sometimes those changes happen very suddenly, so we may not be aware of them.”
In the presentation to the seniors, Bach and others touched on the multitude of factors that come into play when an elderly person is at risk for a fall. These include the medications they are on and how they affect the body, the safety of environment (cords, poor lighting, loose rugs, improper footwear), vision and muscle weakness. Part of environmental safety also involves the type of city or town you reside. Bach touched on that with the AmNews and with the crowd in attendance.
“I think it’s a big challenge in New York City at any age, because the sidewalks aren’t perfectly level, there aren’t always cutouts in the road and there isn’t always an easy way to get down the subway other than walking down the stairs,” said Bach. “With all of the wonders of New York City, it’s challenging to get around the community itself.”
Bach suggests talking to doctors about medications, making sure not to borrow medication from other seniors and knowing the common side effects of each drug. For vision, one should keep bright lights in the house and a nightlight while sleeping just in case of nighttime bathroom visits. Bach also suggests finding a facility that provides exercise regiments for the elderly and workouts that increase stamina.
Perkins hoped everyone left the presentation with a little more knowledge than they had when they came in.
“This is an opportunity with the VNSNY Choice to educate my mothers–the elders in the neighborhood–on how to be careful and prevent some of the falls that may occasionally happen to them,” Perkins said.