NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Take Steps to Stay on Your Feet

Stepping On workshop, falls, elderly, safety

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Did you know that one of every four people 65 and older falls each year? Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for people 65-plus.

In North Dakota, 559 fall-related deaths occurred among adults 65 and older from 2009 through 2014, with an average of 93 deaths per year.

Falls threaten older adults’ safety and independence, and generate enormous economic and personal costs. However, falling is not an inevitable result of aging. Because falls are largely preventable, taking action today is important to reduce your risk of a fall. Here are six easy steps to help you to reduce falls:

  1. Find a good balance and exercise program that builds balance, strength and flexibility.
  2. Talk to your health-care provider and ask for an assessment of your risk of falling.
  3. Review your medications with your pharmacist or doctor. Make sure side effects aren’t increasing your risk of falling.
  4. Get your vision checked annually and update your eyeglasses as needed.
  5. Keep your home safe. Increase lighting, remove tripping hazards, install grab bars and make stairs safe.
  6. Assess your footwear for safety. Look for supportive shoes, a good fit, a sole that grips, and a heel that is stable and grips.

Strong evidence supports the effectiveness of fall prevention programs, particularly those that target multiple risk factors.

Stepping On, a fall-prevention program offered by the North Dakota State University Extension Service, is designed for older adults who have fallen or have a fear of falling. The program has been offered in Mercer County since 2012.

The workshop, offered once a week for seven weeks, empowers older adults to adopt healthy behaviors that reduce the risk of falls.

Research has found that those completing the Stepping On workshop experienced a 31 percent reduction in falls.

In a small-group setting, older adults learn balance and strength exercises, and develop specific knowledge and skills to prevent falls. The workshop also includes information about home modifications, community safety and vision, and a medication review.

One of the main components of the workshop is the balance and strength exercises. Strength begins to decrease after the age of 50 and decreases more rapidly after the age of 70.

A common myth is that muscle strength and flexibility cannot be regained. While we do lose muscle as we age and have more problems that result in balance deficits, older people have a great capacity to increase muscle strength and balance, health experts say.

In fact, it is never too late to start an exercise program. Even if you've been physically inactive up to this point in your life, beginning now will help you in maintaining independence, including protection from falls.

The NDSU Extension Service is partnering with the North Dakota Department of Health to offer this program. Contact our office at 873-5195 for more information about Stepping On.

Source: Jane Strommen, NDSU Extension gerontology specialist

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