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Stay steady on your feet as you age


The first day of autumn, Sept. 22, is also Fall Prevention Awareness Day, a nationally recognized date to observe ways to prevent seniors from falling.

Falling, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the largest contributor to injury in elderly people. Every 15 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 29 minutes, one dies following a fall.

“About one third fall and never get back up,” said Teresa D’Orazio, special projects coordinator for Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Associates in Fredericksburg. “They fall and literally never get back on their feet.”

In observance of the national awareness day, Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Associates is holding a fall prevention open house on Sept. 21.

“A lot of seniors are unaware that they can proactively prevent a fall,” D’Orazio said.

At the open house, OSPTA will offer fall risk testing done by physical therapists, blood pressure checks, vision tests from local optometrists and prescription reviews.

D’Orazio said a lot of falls can be prevented by correcting issues with general strength, vision and balance, and by making sure medications are not contributing to unsteadiness. She said she has seen prevention strategies work for patients at OSPTA. One pair of patients, 85-year-old sisters, started coming to the facility because they want to remain independent.

“They want to continue living on their own, not even with each other,” she said. “And they know the key to living on their own is mobility.”

The sisters go to physical therapy, exercise at the facility and remain independent and fall-free, D’Orazio said.

Falling—and even the fear of falling—can radically affect a person’s life. But there are things you can do, especially as you age, to minimize your risk of falling. The Mayo Clinic and OSPTA recommend these strategies:

  • Make an appointment with your doctor. To assess your falling risk, your doctor may ask what medicines you take, whether you have fallen before and whether you have any health problems that could enhance your falling risk.
  • If you have glasses, wear them. And check in once a year with an ophthalmologist.
  • Stay active. With a doctor’s permission, participate in activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi—they may reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. Also, see a physical therapist if you feel unsteady on your feet.
  • Wear sensible shoes. High heels, slippers and shoes with slick soles can cause falls. To prevent this, you should have your feet measured each time you buy shoes, since foot size can change. Sturdy shoes with nonskid soles are good investments to prevent a fall. However, avoid shoes with extra-thick soles. The Mayo Clinic and OSPTA recommend choosing lace-up shoes instead of slip-ons, and keeping the laces tied. Also, make sure your feet aren’t cramped. If you’re a woman who can’t find wide enough shoes, try men’s shoes.
  • Remove home hazards, light up your living space and use devices like grab bars. Provide adequate lighting, and use night lights. Install grab bars next to the toilet and shower—this is especially helpful for seniors with balance or strength problems. Remove scatter rugs and secure carpet edges, and place nonslip rugs in the bathroom to prevent unsteadiness. Also, keep walkways in the home clear and place things used regularly in cabinets that can be easily reached without a stepstool.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976


WHAT: Fall Prevention Open House

WHERE: Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Associates, 421 Chatham Square, southern Stafford County

WHEN: Friday, Sept. 21. 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

TO REGISTER: Registration is required. Call 540-373-3031 to sign up.

COST: Free