Taking a tumble can drastically change a life, threaten independence, and in some cases result in fatal injury. According to Marty Pond, MS, RN-BC-Gerontology with St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among people who are 65 and older, especially those with multiple diagnoses or those using mobility assistance equipment such as canes or walkers. While not all falls can be prevented, falling is not inevitable - there are steps that can be taken to reduce fall risk.

“Many falls could be prevented through easy changes to living areas and lifestyle changes,” says Colleen Lupia, BS, RN clinical educator with St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center. She stresses the importance of a home safety assessment to identify safety hazards in and around the home. “Taking the time to eliminate obstacles to mobility greatly reduces fall risk.” Securing loose carpeting and cords, installing indoor and outdoor motion lighting, removing items on the floor and stairs are excellent starting points and maintain clear walkways and treaded stairs outdoors will also create a safer environment. Rooms such as bathrooms can be made safer by installing grab bars and purchasing a shower chair to use when bathing. “Prevention is key,” says Lupia. She adds that the number one cause of falls in the home is the result of tripping over pets and that it is imperative that people wear appropriate footwear providing traction and support for their activities.

In addition to creating a hazard free space, maintaining health and wellness can make all the difference. “Having a truthful and open dialogue with their physician is a major part of reducing fall risk,” says Pond. “Patients need to let their physician know of any over the counter medications they are taking, and to ask their physician if new prescriptions might make them more susceptible to falling.” She also stresses the need to attend follow up appointments to ensure proper care. Visiting the eye-doctor annually and when a change in vision is detected optimizes sight, and healthy lifestyle habits will also mitigate risk for falls. “Regular exercise helps build and maintain strength in the lower body and improves balance and staying hydrated is equally important as it can contribute to weakness, balance issues and lead to more severe ailments,” says Lupia. Beyond environmental factors associated with increased fall risk, Pond and Lupia both acknowledge that the fear of falling is an emotional component that must be managed.

“The fear of falling can be paralyzing,” says Beverly Lawton, executive director of Franciscan Lifeline and Medication Dispensing. “When someone is afraid of falling, they begin to lose their independence; they stop participating in activities that made them happy, and in some cases stay in their homes to avoid falling - unwittingly putting themselves at greater risk of falls due to loss of muscle strength.” Caregivers can also experience fear of their loved one falling which may have a negative effect on the loved one’s independence. Fortunately, there are options available in the form of medical alert systems that help to reduce fall risk and alleviate fear in both the user and the caregiver.

Franciscan Companies is a provider of Lifeline Medical Alert Services. Lifeline’s HomeSafe and GoSafe equipment enables those who are a fall risk or for whom fear of falling is a concern, to go about their daily activities with the knowledge that, help is immediately available through the push of a button. “At one time medical alert systems limited people to a certain distance from the base unit. Advancements in technology have led to products like GoSafe which allows users to go about their typical day free from restriction,” says Lawton.

The GoSafe mobile alert unit works in any location by using mobile and GPS technology. Whether a person is at the grocery store or on the back nine at the golf course, GoSafe is there too. “Lifeline benefits both the user and the caregiver by providing confidence and peace of mind,” adds Lawton. When activated, the system connects the user to a Lifeline representative trained to provide assistance ranging from comforting words and reassurance to contacting emergency services or a friend or relative to go to the person to provide assistance. She also notes that although seniors are the major users of the products, subscribers range in age and Lifeline services are an excellent option for those with disabilities affecting their mobility.

Franciscan Companies’ Lifeline representatives help separate the emotion from the decision ensuring that subscribers select the service that best suits their needs. Installation services and equipment training are also included. “The decision to get Lifeline is about promoting independence, peace of mind and comfort – people can be safe in the home and when participating in the activities that they enjoy,” says Lawton. For more information about Lifeline Medical Alert Services, contact 315-492-8175.