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Ask a Doc: Take steps now to prevent falls later

10:47 AM, Sep. 27, 2013  |  Comments
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Question: How can my elderly parents avoid falling?

Answer: It's no secret that as we age, we become more susceptible to falling, and the chances of severe injuries rise. In addition, those who fall but are not injured could develop a fear of falling. This can cause them to limit their activities, which then puts them at higher risk for falling again.

Staying active is one of the best things an elderly person can do to prevent falls. As we age, we need to maintain a level of activity that not only keeps us fit, but helps us maintain good balance, strength, flexibility and endurance.

A physical therapist can evaluate your parents' current physical status, including strength, flexibility, walking pattern, balance and daily activities. A therapist also can help create an appropriate balance exercise program, and can recommend appropriate assistive devices such as a cane or walker. Medicare typically covers physical therapy for balance issues.

You also can help your parents with simple preventive things like:

? Making sure they wear shoes in the house rather than just socks or slippers.

? Removing throw rugs, boxes and extension cords that might trip them.

? Adding safety handrails to the sides of stairs, hallways and bathrooms.

? Getting a raised toilet seat for ease in getting up.

? Buying some "grabbing" utensils to help reach items at the top of the cupboard without climbing a step stool.

? Checking that lighting is adequate to see things on the floor.

? Putting extra nightlights out, and keeping a flashlight near the bed.

? Tacking down carpeting that is coming up and adding bright paint or tape to the top front edge of steps as a warning.

Marshfield Clinic recently introduced a new program, Stand Tall Don't Fall, which tests and emphasizes balance and gait, and reducing fall risk. For more information, call 715-539-9924.

Mary Repking is a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Marshfield Clinic Merrill Center. This column provides health information and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for care from your health care provider.

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