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September falls but you don't have to

It doesn’t feel like something you necessarily celebrate. But I encourage you to consider doing just that — in your own way.

September is National Fall Prevention Month. There will not be a parade. But there may be some local workshops you could consider attending, perhaps joined by a friend who does not have grab bars in her bathroom but definitely needs them. There may be educational materials to pick up and read or a website to visit. Perhaps a celebratory toss of an old throw rug that lays rumpled by your back door, waiting to trip and tumble you. Do it your way, but please do it.

Without exaggeration, I tell you that preventing falls in the home could save your life and the lives of people you love. Falls are game changers of the highest order. Data indicate that 25% to 33% of older adults fall. If you’re older than 85 that percentage catapults to 50%.

“Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions,” according to the most recent data from the National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org). Another website worth looking at is www.rbtrv.org.

This is serious stuff. I will be graphic. Envision an emergency vehicle pulling into your driveway while your husband lies splayed on the sidewalk by the front door. All he was doing was trying to pick up the morning paper and that darn throw rug by the front door grabbed him and his cane.

Envision yourself in the shower and feeling a little dizzy. You reach for something to hang onto — the only thing available is the shower curtain, and it comes down on top of you as you try to brace yourself. You go down hard, your head hitting the side of the porcelain tub. Some experts report that over 80% of injury falls occur in the bathroom, an extremely hard-surface place to fall. Plus, you’re naked.

Increasingly more falls are fatal. Despite the fact that fall prevention month comes every year with accompanying attention to unsafe practices in the home, in the last several years the rate of fatal falls in older adults has increased. We are not able to prevent many things that happen to us as we age, but we can prevent or reduce the likelihood of a fall and fracture or head injury — even death. In the name of “safer at home” and “aging in place,” we can protect ourselves in simple, easy-solution ways. In my experience, the average cost of three grab bars (installed by a licensed, bonded handyman), a “comfort height” toilet and/or toilet rails, a shower chair and a hand-held shower wand hooked to a vertical grab bar is about $330.

The average cost of an injury fall is $30,000. Celebrate the fact that you read this column to the end and now you know. Do it your way. You are in charge.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.