UNC Hospitals officials celebrated the first day of the fall season by warning against a different kind of fall.
Falls Prevention Awareness Day, held Friday, aimed to highlight the risk factors for falling amongst the elderly.
Richard Wall, 67, showcased his renewed sense of balance at the Falls Awareness Fair, joking while standing on one foot that he wouldn’t fall.
After falling in his apartment last April, Wall underwent several sessions of physical and occupational therapy at the UNC’s Geriatric Specialty Clinic.
“All those commercials with, ‘Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,’ — trust me, they are true,” he said.
“I crashed down on the floor. Very fortunately, I had my cell phone with me, and I could call the ambulance and a friend,” he said.
Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead, director of the UNC Center for Aging and Health, said people aged 65 and older living alone are 30 to 40 percent more likely to fall. That likelihood increases to 50 percent when the elderly move to long-term care facilities.
Busby-Whitehead said there are multiple risk factors that lead to falls, including memory loss, cognitive impairment, vision loss and medical conditions like diabetes that can result in a loss of feeling in the legs and feet.
But the most common and most treatable cause of falling, she said, is medication.
“There are a number of different types of drugs that affect the central nervous system, and they are the ones most commonly associated with falls,” Busby-Whitehead said.
“The greatest prevention tool is being seen by a physician.”
Tiffany Shubert, an adjunct assistant professor in the division of physical therapy, said studies show a strong link between exercise and cognition in reducing the risk of falling.
“If you focus on anything from walking and talking to just walking around, you improve balance,” Shubert said.
She said exercises like balancing on one foot or walking around a room with the aid of a walker can improve muscle strength and coordination.
Wall said since his fall, he has realized how easy it is to take walking for granted.
“There are days when I’d rather sit here,” he said.
“It would be easy to give up and just let people do stuff for you, but that’s not a lot of fun.”
Busby-Whitehead said she hopes increasing awareness about fall causes will reduce the number of patients treated for injuries.
“It’s a major problem that threatens the independence of older people,” she said.
“Aging alone doesn’t cause this. There are multiple causes, and there are things we can do to prevent and treat falls.”
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