You undoubtedly know an older Ohioan who has fallen. A parent. A grandparent. Your spouse. Perhaps yourself.
Falls among adults age 65 and older in Ohio are an epidemic.
During the time it takes you to read this column, an older Ohioan will fall. By the time you finish reading this newspaper, an Ohio elder will end up in a hospital emergency room as a result of injuries sustained in a fall. And by the end of the day, three Ohio elders will die from their injuries.
Falls are the No. 1 cause of injuries leading to emergency room visits (almost 64,000 in 2009), hospital stays (more than 16,000) and deaths (more than 800).
Unfortunately, one fall is all it takes to put your mobility, your independence, your life in a downward spiral. You fall and become afraid of falling again, especially when you are out and about. So you don't leave your house as often. You don't get together with friends as frequently. You are anxious about going to the grocery store. You may believe that such caution will reduce your risk of falling. But ironically, research shows that the fear of falling actually increases your risk of falling again.
You also may be embarrassed after falling, so you don't talk with anyone about it. Not with your family. Not with your friends. Not even with your doctor. As a result, you don't get any help from others who can help you reduce your risk of falling.
Falls are not a normal part of aging, and the good news is that most can be prevented. That is why the Ohio Department of Aging is leading STEADY U Ohio, a statewide falls prevention initiative supported by state government in partnership with businesses and other participating organizations. We are committed to educating every county, every community and every individual in Ohio about what each of us can do to prevent falls and falls-related injuries among Ohio's elders - our "Golden Buckeyes."
The STEADY U Ohio website (www.steadyu.ohio.gov) offers a one-stop resource for falls prevention information, practical tips and tools. You can complete a falls risk self-assessment online and take the results to your doctor to discuss how you can reduce your falls risks. You can find information about what each of us can do to prevent falls among older adults - individuals and families, businesses, healthcare providers, nursing homes and entire communities. And you can follow STEADY U Ohio on Facebook and Twitter.
If you don't have a computer or use the Internet, talk to someone who can get this information for you. If you are a falls risk, it can save your life.
Meanwhile, here are some steps you can take on a path to stronger footing:
l Improve your balance, strength and flexibility which will help reduce your fear and risk of falling. Contact a local senior center, community center or your Area Agency on Aging for a good balance and exercise program near you.
Talk with your healthcare provider. Ask for a clinical assessment of your risk of falling, and what you can do to reduce identified risks. Urge your healthcare provider to contact the Ohio Department of Health for a fall prevention provider toolkit to help them integrate falls prevention in their medical practice.
Regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist. Make sure side effects of the medications you are taking are not increasing your risk of falling. Take medications only as prescribed.
Get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eyeglasses or contacts. Your eyes and ears are critical to keeping you on your feet.
Keep your home safe. Remove tripping hazards like throw rugs, increase lighting, install handrails on stairs and grab bars in bathrooms.
Talk to your family members. Ask them for help in reducing your risk of falling.
l Tell businesses you support to commit to be "fall free zones" and alert them about conditions that can lead to slips, trips and falls such as slippery floors and crowded aisles.
You have the power to reduce your risk of falling by taking these steps.
Bonnie K. Burman is director of the Ohio Department of Aging.