Vitality for Seniors: Fall Prevention Awareness Day at Phelps

In recognition of National Fall Prevention Awareness Day, Phelps sponsored a full day of activities last September at the James House Mansion on the hospital campus.

The fall prevention event started with balance screenings conducted by the physical medicine department and blood pressure screenings performed by the nursing department.  Cheryl Burke, RN, CNS, offered safety tips for fall-proofing the home to reduce the risk of falls. She also talked about the NICHE program – Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders – which focuses on the care of hospitalized older adults, including how to recognize patients at risk for falling and ways to prevent falls from occurring.  

Because there is a connection between fall-induced fractures and osteoporosis, Dr. Farrah Gutwein, a Phelps Medical Associates physician specializing in rheumatology, spoke about risk factors for osteoporosis. Main risk factors are: cigarette smoking, long-term use of steroids, low body weight (less than 127 lbs.), rheumatoid arthritis, a personal or parental history of a non-traumatic or low-trauma bone fracture (e.g., breaking a bone after falling from standing height or less), excessive alcohol consumption (three or more drinks a day), and having an osteoporosis-related disorder such as diabetes, untreated hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, early menopause, chronic malnutrition or malabsorption, or chronic liver disease.  

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Dr. Gutwein talked about ways to prevent osteoporosis. She recommended eating foods that provide calcium (milk, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables) and vitamin D (milk and fish), taking calcium and vitamin D supplements if diet sources are inadequate, exercising for at least 30 minutes most days, avoiding smoking, limiting the use of medications that can cause osteoporosis, and limiting alcohol consumption, which is associated with poor nutrition and increased risk for falling.

Dr. Gutwein also suggested ways to prevent falls in the home: ensure rugs have a no-slip backing to keep them in place; keep electrical cords tucked away; install adequate lighting on walkways; use caution when walking on slippery floors; wear sturdy, comfortable shoes with rubber soles; have eyes checked routinely; and find out whether prescribed medications cause dizziness or increase the risk of falling. 

Fred Perino, Phelps Pharmacy director, was on hand to present a more in-depth discussion of medications and their link to falls. Participants learned which types of drugs put them at a higher risk for falls and why. Some medications that are associated with falling are those for cardiovascular conditions, pain, anxiety, sleep problems, depression, psychosis and nasal congestion (especially over-the-counter antihistamines).  

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