Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2013, 12:14 pm

Strong reasons to work on preventing falls

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By Jane Glenn Haas

How many of us remember "Ring Around the Rosie," with that powerful ending "we all fall down"?
Ah, the childhood rhyme is so true.
Ask Dorothy Lucas, 93, why she's in the fall-prevention class at Atria Senior Living in Irvine, Calif., and she'll tell you how she fell and broke her hip in July.
Salus Homecare expert Dave Luxenberg takes her through some basic exercises, explaining there are three primary reasons falls are a worry for people older than 60:
-- 10 percent of these people have lost sensory perception -- they can't feel their feet;
-- 30 percent suffer from vestibular neuritis -- a balance problem in the inner ear;
-- 60 percent have vision problems that are not correctible with glasses.
Like Julia Corona, 84, who said she falls and has problems walking and looking around at the same time as she travels Atria's halls.
Involving Atria residents in a fall-prevention exercise program is critical, said Charlotte Peterson, the home's "Engage Life" director.
Falls are the leading cause of injury death for older Americans. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
-- One-third of Americans age 65-plus fall each year.
-- Every 15 seconds on average, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall; every 29 minutes, an older adult dies after a fall.
-- Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal, trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
-- Falls result in more than 2.3 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including more than 650,000 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 deaths.
-- The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the boomer population ages, and might reach $54.9 billion by 2020.
Besides, falling hurts.
I know that first-hand.
Christmas morning I rushed into the kitchen to get the dog's breakfast and ended up falling so badly I broke my left arm. Worse, I had to stay on that floor for hours waiting for a friend (we celebrated as a family Chistmas Eve).
And "worser" (as my granddaughter used to say), I required three hours of surgery to set my badly broken bones.
"Falls are the number one reason for all hospital admissions for people 65-plus," said Emily Nabors, from the University of Southern California fall-prevention program.
While balance is a significant issue, Nabors said, diseases affecting balance, such as Parkinson's, show up on patient charts less often than chronic conditions requiring significant medications, such as diabetes and arthritis.
"Put weakness in the lower body together with hazards in the home, such as inadequate lighting and throw rugs, and risks really increase.
"And once you've fallen, the risk of falling again also increases, whether injured or not. It all seems to stem from a fear of falling. And that fear can lead to further cutback in activities and increased lower body weakness."
There are sporadic programs at senior centers and other agencies designed to increase fall-prevention awareness. A few places, such as Atria, offer specific exercise programs.
"Interested adults should check their communities, local home health agencies -- just all sorts of potential resources," Nabors said.
As we all live longer, we all play "Ring Around the Rosie," whether we want to or not.