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Dr. Zorba Paster: Don't leave too soon. Follow these tips to avoid falls

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Only leaves should fall. It’s a good slogan for an event I participate in every year, trying to keep people — especially folks over 65, a group I’m part of — healthy, alive, safe and fall-free.

When you’re young, falling is not a biggie. Penny and I have five grandchildren now. When they visit us, romping around the backyard, they’re falling all the time, be it from soccer, tag or just being a kid.

When they fall, they bounce; when we fall, we break. Big difference. For an older person, a fall can mean assisted living for the rest of your life, or even death.

One out of four seniors who fall are dead within two years. That’s not from the fall, per se, but ongoing complications from being sedentary — pneumonias, urinary tract infections, the sort of things that kill you when you are sedentary.

A fall can make those “golden years” more like “lead years.” You don’t want that if you’re a senior, so it’s time to take action to make your life fall-free in the fall. You need to look at things you can do to make things safer.

So, folks, take out pencil and paper and prepare to make a list. Or if you’re a techy, do this on your phone.

Do you have night lights around the house so when nature calls at night you don’t trip in the dark and fall? Are you safe in the shower? Do you need grab bars — good grab bars? What about a shower chair with arms? Do you have non-slip shower shoes?

The bathroom is a most common place for serious accidents to occur. Who wants to die by a toilet? Yuck.

Do you have throw rugs around the house? You can easily stumble on these. They may look nice to your eye but not be nice to your body. You might need to toss them out or put them away so they don’t become a tripping hazard.

And while you’re at it, check your staircases. Are there solid railings on both sides to help steady yourself going up and down? You know what my mom said: “Two railings are better than one.” Actually, she never said that because we lived in a bi-level with just five stairs going up and five going down. But it’s still true.

How about outside spaces? Are they well-lit with safe steps? We just put in new LED bulbs to brighten things up around our house. You can, too. Those puppies last a long time, and you’ll save a lot on electricity — about $10 to $15 per month over the incandescent ones. I suggest going around and changing all your lights as soon as you see those LED bulbs go on sale, which they do all the time.

Go through every space you visit in your home life — inside and out — and check off what you might need to adult-proof your house.

When it comes to falls, it only makes sense that balance is an issue. If you’re wobbly, you might need an assistance device such as a cane or a walker. Or you might just need to take a tai chi or similar class, perhaps yoga, to improve your balance.

There may be a community outreach program in your area just like in ours. It may not be called “Only Leaves Should Fall,” like ours, but would be beneficial nonetheless. It’s worthwhile to find out what’s offered by calling your area senior centers. Learning about balance can make a big difference in your life.

Oh, and I nearly forgot one more step. There are those among us who need a walker or cane and don’t use it. Why? Because they’re too darn stubborn or they don’t think they need it. Or, more likely, they’re too darn vain.

I have patients every day in my office who wobble in. I ask them if they need a cane or a walker and they often reply it’s at home. Wow. A lot of good it’ll do you there.

If you need one, get it. If you have one, use it. If you wonder whether you would benefit from one, you probably would.

My spin: Last year alone, 30,000 seniors in the U.S. died from falls, a 30% increase from 2007. The time has come to take action — action you can take without a co-pay. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.


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