“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” found it’s ways into pop culture in 1989 after a medical alert company called Lifecall aired a commercial with an elderly woman in a precarious situation calling for help.
Since then, numerous comedians have worked the catchphrase, if not the entire situation, into routines.
However, the reality of a fall is no laughing matter, especially when people approach their twilight years.
Today, the first day of Fall, has been dubbed “Falls Prevention Awareness Day” by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), Kansas Department on Aging and Disability Services, National Council on Aging, and Falls Free Coalition.
“Older adult falls can lead to serious injuries, death, and substantial medical costs,” said Lori Haskett, section director for KDHE’s injury prevention program. We need to raise awareness of the many preventative measures that can be taken to keep our seniors safe.”
In 2013, more than 5,700 Kansans ages 65 and older were discharged from hospitals after a fall, she said, while 354 people that age died from a fall.
Marion County EMS director Brandy McCarty said emergency professionals encounter falls on a regular basis. As of August, EMS workers had responded to 78 calls that involved falls.
“Clutter is a big cause for falls,” she said. “Extension cords, loose rugs, anything that piles or bunches up can be a trip hazard.”
Walkers, canes, and feet easily catch on wrinkled rug and cause a fall, she said.
“People should be aware of their surroundings,” McCarty said. “Pets are also trip hazards because they want to love on you and get around your legs. You try not to trip over them and then you trip.”
Bonnie Sawyer, director of Marion Assisted Living, LLC, said workers keep their facilities walkways clutter free fabric rugs and tile floors can be a dangerous combination.
“You don’t want a rug that will slide, it could cause a fall,” Sawyer said. “In bathrooms, mats should be rubber so they stay in place, but even that should be picked up and hung up when it’s not in use.”
She also cautioned about the dangers of standing up or sitting down too quickly.
“Standing up too fast can cause dizziness and lead to a fall,” Sawyer said, “and when seniors go to sit down, they should back up until the back of their knees touch the chair, then reach back with their hand and steady themselves on the chair as they sit down.”
McCarty encouraged people not to take on dangerous tree trimming and fix-it jobs that require ladders if they are not physically able to do so.
For those who are physically able, they should make sure their ladders are on solid ground, in good working order, and always make sure not to overextend themselves reaching for something or hanging things like Christmas lights.
“Some elders don’t want to give up that independence of doing chores around the house,” McCarty said, “but they should listen to their family members if they tell them they shouldn’t be out doing those things.”
The Area Agency on Aging offers, “Stepping On,” and “Matter of Balance,” two fall prevention classes a year throughout different communities.
“We had one in the summer and we will probably do one this spring,” coordinator Gayla Ratzlaff said. “Classes are informative and include an exercise program meant to help improve balance and strength, which are two things people need to work on in order not to fall.”
Classes are six to eight weeks. For additional class information, contact Ratzlaff at (620)382-3580.