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Please help me, I'm fallin'Posted Sunday, August 19, 2012, at 9:35 PM
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has said that most people are so fearful of speaking in public that at any funeral the average person would rather be in the casket than at the podium delivering the eulogy.
While that might be true on average, older Americans -- those age 65 and up -- have a more concrete fear and with good reason.
They are afraid of falling.
Let's pause a moment and try to banish from our minds the television image of "I've fallen and I can't get up."
I'll grant that the funny punch line to comedy routines and SNL skits is amusing, but it's not funny at all if you're the one on the floor.
Older Americans are afraid of losing a cherished item (5%), afraid of forgetting an appointment (8%), afraid of having financial problems (12%) and afraid of being robbed in the street (17%). But those fears are dwarfed by the fear of falling at 46%
And that's if they haven't already taken a bad fall. If they have, the fear level rises to 73%.
That fear can be paralyzing.
Surveys indicate that 26% of seniors who have fallen reduce their activities. And when that happens, they begin to become depressed, become physically weaker and then are at even greater risk of falling again. Their quality of life is much reduced.
Is that fear justified? Well, statistics say it is. Falls are the number one cause of deaths from injury in older adults and a leading cause of brain injuries and fractures.
According to a New York Times article published in 2003, about one-third of Americans 65 and older will fall in an average year. An estimated 10,000 will die as a result, and the cost of treating the injuries runs well into the billions of dollars.
Falling isn't the only thing older adults are worried about -- there is also the fear of the consequences of a bad fall, a fear beyond the fear of injury.
Virtually every senior has a story about a friend or a relative who's had a bad fall, and was never the same again.
A fall can mean a long stay in a nursing home, the loss of independence, the loss of contact with the outside world, the need for assistive devices like a walker or a cane. For women, a fall that results in a broken hip can be almost a death sentence.
This isn't a small problem. And it's growing.
The over-65 group is currently 12.9% of our 314 million population; that percentage will continue to rise as the Baby Boom generation moves through its life expectancy.
The good news is that there are ways to reduce the risk. And a little common sense goes a long way.
Since most falls occur at home, start there.
Get rid of slippery throw rugs or make sure they're firmly anchored to the floor. Install safety bars and non-slip mats in the bathroom. Reduce the amount of furniture and establish a clear walking path in every room. Make sure that stairs are well-lit and equipped with sturdy handrails. Get control of clutter and exposed electrical cords. And when you are walking around at night, don't do it in the dark.
Throw out the worn and scuffed-up slippers you've been wearing for 15 years. When you get dressed every morning, put on a pair of good shoes and keep them on all day. Lace-up shoes are better than clogs or sandals because it takes no effort to keep them on your feet.
With your doctor, review all your medications, including any over-the-counter drugs, paying particular attention to those whose side effects include dizziness or sleepiness. It may be possible to reduce the dosage, or to take the medication at night, rather than in the morning, in order to reduce dizziness in your waking hours. As long as you're at the doctor's office already, have your vision and hearing tested, too.
Finally, get some exercise.
That doesn't mean you have to sign up for Zumba classes or start running marathons. What it does mean is that you check with your doctor and ask for advice.
There's no one fitness plan that works for everyone. Weight- bearing exercise is excellent and for older adults, the weight-bearing exercise of walking is a great way to stay fit.
For those with joint problems or other issues that won't allow running or walking for extended periods, a swim class may be more appropriate.
The goal is to keep moving and that's no joke. Stay on your feet and keep moving as long as you possibly can. If you don't, the day when you won't be able to will not be far behind.
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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.