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home : opinions : opinions June 28, 2016

3/6/2012 10:38:00 AM
Guest Column: Falling is a risk for everyone - in every season
Chad Tharan
Patient Safety Program Coordinator - Flagstaff Medical Center

As the winter season in northern Arizona draws to a close many people begin to see their chances of slipping and falling melt away with the snow and ice; however, that's not the case, people fall year round. Falls are nondiscriminatory and can happen to anyone. In fact, falling is so common that falls with injuries has become a significant and expensive problem in the U.S. Falls have been so costly that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refer to falls on their website as "a public health problem that is largely preventable."

As people fall down the costs go up. In 2000, the CDC reported that costs associated with non-fatal injuries exceeded $19 billion. Many of the injuries sustained from falls include fractures of the pelvis, hip, arms, hands, and foot and ankle fractures. Nearly 90 percent of hip fractures are a result of a fall. Once people have experienced one fall they often become fearful of repeated falls. This fear of falling, according to the CDC, then leads to decreased activity and exercise, which actually can increase the potential of another fall.

There are several simple "steps" which can be taken to help reduce the possibility of falling. Here's what you can do at home -

• Eliminate trip hazards in your home like cords, throw rugs, etc.

• Participate in exercise programs which focus on balance and building strength in your legs (the CDC recommends activities such as Tai Chi).

• Install grab bars near bath tubs and toilets.

• Ensure your home is well lit.

• Understand your medications and how they may affect you.

• Receive an annual vision exam.

In addition to the possibility of falling at home, people can be at an increased risk for falling while in a hospital or long-term care facility. Often, people receive medications, which may be new; therefore, they may not fully understand how the medications can affect them. Pay special attention to sleeping and pain control medications. Unfamiliarity with the environment, procedures and equipment also can also be a factor in increasing the risk of falls.

Again, there are several simple "steps" which can be taken to help reduce the possibility of falling while in a care facility -

• Ask for assistance if you feel unsteady.

• Use the call light.

• Ask the physician and nurse about the effects of medications.

• Understand it is an unfamiliar place.

• Watch for specialized equipment not normally present at home.

• Be honest and tell the physician or nurse if you have experienced falls in your home or while in the hospital.

March 4-10 is National Patient Safety Week. It is important for patients and their families to understand their roles in patient safety and fall prevention. Safety and prevention relies on a team approach to patient care - which includes the patient and their family. For patient safety programs to be truly effective, patients need to be fully informed and actively involved in their care. For additional information, fall statistics and fall prevention ideas, visit the CDC website at CDC.gov.

(Editor's note: Chad Tharan is the Patient Safety Program Coordinator at Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FMC's Web site at FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.)

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