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TOOLKIT TO HELP PREVENT SENIORS FROM FALLING

SIMPLE GUIDELINES, EASY TO UNDERSTAND AND FOLLOW

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released guidelines to help prevent and mitigate falls among senior citizens in 2012. The CDC program is called STEADI, an acronym coming from the full title Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries. Research shows that falls are the leading cause of injuries, death and emergency room visits for trauma. If a senior citizen falls it can literally be a traumatic, life altering event or even a deadly one. The silver lining is that many falls are preventable. Last year the Obama Administration announced that that the White House Conference on Aging, the Administration on Aging awarded $4 million in various grants to help expand STEADI. It is estimated that the increased funding will help reach an additional 18,000 at risk senior citizens. It is further hoped that the funding will increase participation in evidence based community programs and improve the overall programs long term viability. The CDC developed these guidelines in conjunction with British and American Geriatric Societies.

The American and British Geriatric Societies already had clinical practice guidelines in place to better define the various risk factors in falls by senior citizens. The CDC guidelines contain basic information about falls, methods to begin conversations with seniors, balance assessment tests, gait assessment tests along with instructional videos for the gait and balance tests and even case studies of the the fall risks for different senior citizens. The program and recommendations are all inclusive in that the STEADI program at the CDC website has a testing protocol for professional medical care providers, to information about webinars and other instructional videos, material for senior citizens themselves, important facts about falls, referral forms, posters for professional establishments, with posters also available in Spanish and Chinese and most importantly, it has a toolkit for medical professionals.

THREE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

While the STEADI toolkit is certainly more complex than three questions, the risk factors can be best addressed by asking three basic questions.

  • Question one: Do you feel unsteady when walking or standing?
  • Question two: Have you fallen in the last year?
  • Question three: Do you have concerns about falling?

If a particular senior citizen answers yes to any of these questions, they are considered to be heightened risk for falling. Medical professionals should then review all medications with the individual and perhaps stop, switch or adjust their medication accordingly and recommend a vitamin D supplement of at least 8,000 IU per day with calcium. Other guidelines recommend that the individual have their eyes checked at least once a year and wear appropriate prescription glasses.

Many older Americans are also looking outside the confines of these recommendations via various community based programs. Not surprisingly any form of exercise and/or physical activity is helpful. One very popular approach is the Chinese martial art of tai chi; the implementation of tai chi is indeed scientifically based to help avoid falls among seniors. Tai chi and similar exercise programs help to increase bone strength and joint stability. There is the added benefit of a improved immunity system, cardiovascular health and overall emotional well being.  

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