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Keeping upright

Spreading awareness of fall prevention at home

Registered nurse Rachel Logan of Poland researched how to prevent falls in older populations as part of her studies at Youngstown State University for her family nurse practitioner certificate that she will earn in May.

YOUNGSTOWN — For the last year and a half, registered nurse Rachel Logan of Poland has researched ways older populations can prevent falling down.

“My grandmother experienced a fall, and it prompted me to want to inform this population about how to stay safe in their homes,” said Logan, a 2011 Struthers High School graduate who in May will receive her family nurse practitioner certificate from Youngstown State University.

“Though she did well after surgery, she did not fully recover,” Logan said. “That is why I became so passionate about this subject, because I did not want this to happen to anyone else’s family member.

“My grandmother lived alone for quite some time, and actually, shortly after her fall she passed away from other causes,” Logan said.

Logan earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Akron. She plans to use her nurse practioner certification at YSU “to work in family practice, because I have always loved working with people of all ages.”

She had meant to present the findings of her research in falls in a public forum. That was tripped up by the coronavirus pandemic that has elicited stay-at-home orders in Ohio and elsewhere across the country.

Ironically, those very restrictions are increasing the risks for falls, Logan said.

“In spite of keeping ourselves safe from the spread of a virus by staying inside, being sedentary poses other risks to health in individuals greater than age 65,” Logan said. “Being forced to stay in the home, while totally necessary at this time, means that we must find alternative ways of staying active to prevent physical and mental decline.

“Studies have shown that improving muscle strength and balance helps to reduce falls in older adults,” she said.

But how, if you’re stuck at home? For a start, ask a doctor or physical therapist for simple stretching exercises. Peforming simple stretches a few times per day can help improve strength, balance and confidence.

Confidence is important. Even without stay-at-home orders, the “falling cycle” that can plague older adults can cause self-imposed isolation, which leads to even greater risks, Logan said.

“Being fearful of falling can increase your risk of having a fall, and therefore causes individuals to restrict their social activities to prevent injury altogether. However, this can lead to social isolation and depression, and decreased physical activity, further increasing the risk of falling.”

Then the next fall starts the cycle all over again — fear of falling leads to inactivity, which leads to decreased physical conditioning, which makes another fall even more likely.

Caution and common sense are encouraged. But “overbearing caution can lead to fear, causing a decline in social activities and other social interaction,” she said.

“So during this time, do your best to stay connected to those who you know and love, to keep your spirits up,” Logan said.

“I would just want everyone to know that staying active is the most important thing that they can do. I would also stress the importance of hydration and nutrition to maintain physical health.”

And while the goal is to prevent taking tumbles, a fall or two doesn’t mean it’s time to get locked away in a padded room.

“I am continually surprised at the amount of people who are embarrassed to report that they have had a fall at home, for fear that they will lose their independence. This is understandable, but in truth, by not reporting a fall, this could be an even worse end,” Logan said. “Patients who are on blood thinners, especially, need to report a fall.

“Experiencing a fall means that it is time to collaborate with family and with the health care provider to find ways to prevent it from happening again,” Logan said.

“Because so many of us will be confined to our homes, now is a good time to implement some home fall prevention strategies,” she said.

Start with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, such as removing area rugs, which are tripping hazards, or put double-sided tape on the rugs to prevent them from moving or slipping.

“Another easy tip to stay safe at home is to wear shoes both inside and outside,” she said. “Also, do your best to keep the house well-lit, because falls are more likely to occur with poor vision. Installing nightlights for improved vision at night is another easy way to promote safety.”

Another must — discuss with your doctor the side effects of prescription medications. Do they increase risk of falling?

Learn about nutrition.

“As we age, the urge to eat and drink may diminish for a number of reasons. However, this means it is all the more important that you stay hydrated and maintain a good diet, to prevent changes in blood pressure and muscle strength,” Logan said. “The better you nourish yourself, the stronger you will be.”

When feeling unsteady at home, use a cane or walker rather than holding onto furniture. Furniture not only can move, but furniture in your way increases odds of falling.

Rising slowing from a sitting or lying position also can reduce risks because it can prevent dizziness or too much momentum.

“Last but not least, when this viral outbreak subsides, and we all are allowed to venture out of the home again, talk to your doctor. At your next visit, discuss with them the necessary steps to staying safe,” Logan said.

“They may talk to you about the importance of staying up to date with the eye doctor, the foot doctor or cardiologist. They can help you to adjust medications if needed, and if appropriate give you information about a fall prevention program, which has been shown to be a great help to older adults throughout research studies.

“Most importantly, if you experience a fall, do not hide it from your family, friends or medical doctor. Letting someone know about a fall may be embarrassing, but it may just save your life,” Logan said.

bcole@tribtoday.com

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