Your mission: to keep seniors fall-free | Health beat

A caregiver holds an elderly woman's hand.
An American over 65 comes to the emergency room every 11 seconds because of a fall. This can be prevented. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Laura Maclam talks about older people and falls, and she gets pretty upset.

“I want to shout it from every roof: falling is absolutely not a natural part of aging,” she says.

She’s a woman on a mission, all right. And that mission is to keep seniors on solid ground. Even if it has to stand on a roof.

Maclam knows how devastating a fall can be, especially to an elderly person.

A former paramedic and Aero Med Flight nurse, she has seen many fall victims in her career.

But what upset her about the subject wasn’t a single victim – it was a number.


Maclam found this number while looking at it Spectrum Health Emergency Department Records to identify the most serious problems of adult trauma patients.

She was sure that car accidents would be number 1.

It was falls.

“52 percent of enrolled adult trauma patients over 65 were secondary to a fall,” she said. “These are people with multi-system trauma.

“You could have a brain injury and a broken pelvis. They are the patients with the highest visual acuity, the highest risk and the sickest trauma. “


4 tips to stay strong

Laura Maclam suggests these measures to improve strength and flexibility in daily life:

  1. At the grocery store, do an extra round or two of the store to increase the number of steps you take.
  2. If you have a counter or balance item available, stand on one leg and count to 10. Switch and stand on the other leg.
  3. Do ankle pumps while sitting. Extend your legs forward and bend your feet up and down. Add ankle rolls and knee raises.
  4. Get up from a chair without using the armrests (assuming it’s not on wheels). To do this, straighten your spine and train your core muscles.

Her first thought was, what are we doing wrong in West Michigan?

But then she watched national numbers. She found that 2.8 million Americans over 65 went to an emergency room because of a fall. That’s one visit to the emergency room every 11 seconds.

“This is a national problem that is currently almost epidemic or pandemic,” she said. “Of course we have to tackle that.”

She is facing a major stumbling block – yes, a bad play on words – and that is passive resignation. Too many people consider falls an inevitable part of aging. It happens. What can you do about it?

A lot, says Maclam.

First, realize that falls are serious. As serious as a heart attack. Or a stroke. Or cancer.

“A fall could be devastating,” she said. “You might not be able to live independently in the end. The cost is sometimes enough to be catastrophic. “

And half of those who fall once fall a second time.

The risk increases with age due to health conditions, medication, and inactivity.

“As we get older, we sit and become more immobile, which leads to deconditioning and an increased risk of falls,” she said.

With these changes creeping in on people, many underestimate their risk of falling.

Second, focus on prevention.

Researchers looked at 6 steps that have been shown to reduce the risk of falls:

  1. Remodeling at home. Get rid of slippery carpets. Declutter. Make sure there is good lighting. Keep the driveway clear. Fix steps that are cracked.
  2. Mobility and balance. Do physical activities every week that will help you stay strong and balanced, such as tai chi and aqua aerobics or fitness classes.
  3. Talk to your doctor. Do you take any medication or do you have a medical condition that can make falls more likely? Has your eyesight, hearing, or reflexes changed? What can you do to reduce the risk of falls?
  4. Do an annual eye exam.
  5. Wear sturdy shoes.
  6. Have your hearing checked. Your center of balance is in your inner ear, so changes in hearing affect balance – and hearing aids can improve it.

She hopes this news will also reach family members of older adults. She urges them to discuss the matter with loved ones, offer walks or activities together, and help with household renovations.

“Grandma doesn’t need another Yankee candle,” she says. “She needs grab bars in the bathroom.”

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