Strong Today, Falls Free Tomorrow

Torn white paper banner, casting soft shadow over white.

Perhaps you remember exercise and nutrition expert Jack LaLanne, who was sometimes called the Godfather of Fitness. Do you remember watching his television shows in the 50s, 60s and 70s that featured him demonstrating exercises, while preaching the benefits of regular exercise and good diet? Not only were his programs aimed at younger men and women, he also coached the elderly and individuals with disabilities to not forgo exercise, believing it would enhance their strength.

LaLanne lived for 96 years. He believed the country's overall health depended on the health of the population.

At 92 years of age, Jack LaLanne received a Lifetime Achievement Award during a ceremony at Muscle Beach in Venice Beach, California. Photo taken 9/3/2007 by Nathan Cremisino, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, accessed 8/18/14 at www.flickr.com/photos/ncremisino/1318804162.

Why is falls prevention important?

When you think about being healthy, what comes to mind? Fruits and vegetables? Strength and endurance? Balance and mobility? How about falls prevention?

Truth is, all of these are very important to healthy aging—especially falls prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of Americans 65 years and older fall each year, but less than half of those who fall talk to their healthcare providers about it. Among those who are hospitalized due to a fall, only 22 percent are able to return directly to home. Many require professional nursing care.

In King County, falls accounted for 72 percent of all injury hospitalizations for adults 60 and older in 2012 (Washington State Department of Health, Office of Hospital and Patient Data Systems, Hospitalization Discharge Data: 2008-2012).

Falls prevention awareness

The 7th annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day is scheduled for September 23, 2014—the first day of fall. Governor Jay Inslee has declared the week of September 22–28 as Falls Prevention Week. This year's theme is "Strong Today, Falls Free Tomorrow."

Check calendar listings in this issue for falls prevention activities planned in September—all aimed at increasing community awareness about preventing falls.

Why do older adults fall?

It is important to be aware that there are many individual and environmental fall risk factors. Individual risks include muscle weakness; a history of falls; use of a walking device; problems with vision; arthritis; depression; and age (80 and older). Environmental risks can involve wet and slippery surfaces; uneven, cluttered surfaces and/or floors (often due to throw rugs); stairs and curbs; inadequate lighting; improper shoes and/or footwear; pets; and poorly fitted assistive devices for walking.

Important steps to prevent falls

  1. Find a good balance and strength training program in your community. The CDC recommends several evidence-based programs, which have proven to reduce the fear of falling and help prevent falls.
  2. Talk to your health care provider(s). Ask for an assessment of your fall risk and make sure you let them know if you have had a fall.
  3. Review your medications regularly with your doctor or pharmacist—especially those medications that have side effects and increase your risk of falling. Also be sure to take medications only as prescribed.
  4. Have your vision and hearing checked annually, and update your eyeglasses if needed. The health of your eyes and ears are important to keeping you safe.
  5. Keep your home environment safe. That means removing any clutter and throw rugs.
  6. Have grab bars installed and use night lights in strategic locations.
  7. Always wear sturdy shoes. Avoid floppy slippers.
  8. Talk to your family members and friends, and let them know how they can support you to reduce your risk of falls.

Aging and Disability Services understands the importance of falls prevention awareness. Like Jack LaLanne, we believe the overall health of our communities depends upon healthy aging and informed fall prevention practices. Do your best to prevent falls.

Aging and Disability Services (ADS) planners Mary Pat O'Leary and Karen Winston take the lead in developing falls prevention programs in King County. For more information about falls prevention activities in King County, visit the ADS Falls Prevention webpage or e-mail MaryPat.OLeary@seattle.gov and/or Karen.Winston@seattle.gov.