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Fall Prevention in Tennessee

A Guide to a More Balanced Life

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Our promise: While we can’t stop aging, we can show some basic steps most people can take to prevent the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for Tennesseans 65 and older. 

Falls can be devastating -- and recovering from a sudden slip can take months or years. 

Falls are common among adults age 65 and older. Each year, about one in four older adults fall in Tennessee, and about one in five falls causes a serious injury. 

Falling is not an inevitable part of aging and can be prevented with knowledge and some lifestyle adjustments.

 

There Might Be More Going On Than You Think

As we age, we lose leg strength. The muscles that propel us become less able to help catch us when we stumble. Reflexes that have reacted instantly throughout our lives aren’t as quick as they used to be.

Hearing and vision help us maintain balance, and when our ability to hear and see becomes diminished, our balance gets shakier. The same goes for our sense of touch, particularly on the bottom of the foot.

The loss of bone strength or pain in the joints can affect the way you walk, and an uneven gait can lead to a fall.

In addition, these pains can mean it is more difficult to do things like get dressed, get in and out of the shower or make a simple meal. Things that used to be easy can become tiring or frustrating. Being more tired and frustrated can make you feel less motivated and affect your mental health.

Medications often play a role too. Sometimes they cause blood pressure changes, unexpected dizziness and other side affects that upend our sense of balance and well-being.

Some conditions to consider:

  • Leg weakness
  • Slowing reflexes
  • Poor vision
  • Decreasing sense of touch
  • Uneven gait
  • Medications that can make you dizzy

Nutrition - Healthy eating can provide energy, prevent chronic diseases and improve our health. Check out MyPlate.gov to personalize our own eating plan including calories consumption and easy, inexpensive recipes. 

Hydration - Dehydration can lead to medical issues. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink water. Unless your doctor tells you to limit fluids, consume plenty of liquids like water, milk or broth. Add herbs, fruit or a splash of fruit juice to a glass of water for a refreshing treat.

Be alert to all of the ways the body can go out of balance and how that can carry over into a growing likelihood that one can take a bad fall. We must be aware for ourselves -- and for our older relatives and friends.

The adjustments are often common sense, but many of us become very accustomed to keeping things just as they are around the house. At the same time, some of those favorite homey features -- or nagging problems -- can turn into quick, unexpected threats. For instance:

  • Make sure you have night lights to illuminate your path to the bathroom. Install grab bars by the tub, shower, and toilet, and clear a path to make sure those night-time trips are safer.
  • This works really well: Get a flashlight.
  • See an eye doctor at least once a year because managing vision can help prevent falls. 
  • Declutter. Pay special attention to floor mats, area rugs and electrical cords, anything that can trip you up when you least expect it.
  • Make sure there are sturdy handrails on the stairways. And lights at the top and the bottom of the stairwell.
  • If there is carpeting on the stairs, make sure it’s secure.
  • Try to wear supportive shoes around the house instead of slippers.
  • Take your time. Get up and down slowly, and only after taking time to gain your balance. 
  • If you have a pet, be sure toys, leashes or other items are picked up regularly. 
  • There are helpful professionals that have seen it all. Consult with an occupational therapist or healthcare provider about how to minimize these challenges at home. 

These are just a few ideas, but you get the point. Eliminate everything that can throw you off balance -- even that favorite area rug that pulls the whole room together.

Making the right move means checking with a healthcare provider to determine what works best. If you need ideas about the types of programs that might work best for you, here’s a good place to start.

Stay Active and Independent for Life

Tai Chi for Arthritis/Fall Prevention - An eight-session series introduces gentle, easy movements to improve flexibility, breathing and relaxation. Suited for seniors of all mobility levels and can be done seated. Contact your University of Tennessee Extension County office or other facility for a certified Tai Chi for Health instructor.

Matter of Balance - an eight session facilitated discussion group addresses the fear of falling, helps participants identify barriers and set goals to prevent falls. Easy, gentle  exercises are introduced to improve balance and flexibility. Suited for all mobility levels.

Walk Across Tennessee - A team or individual walking activity for all ages coordinated by University of Tennessee Extension County offices. Participants track and report miles walked on a weekly basis. A fitness conversion chart can be used for activities such as yard work, golf, tai chi or yoga. 

Your local Area Agency on Aging and Disability will have the best ideas about what is available near your home.

Family members fret over these issues all of the time: How to talk to an older relative or friend about worries over falling.

Here is how to start thinking about the issue, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

  • Have you fallen in the past year?
  • Do you feel unsteady when standing or walking?
  • Do you worry about falling?

Answer “Yes,” to any of those, and it means there’s an increased risk for falling. It’s a sign that it’s time to talk to your doctor for further screening and follow up.

Many older Tennesseans do not want to let anyone know they’re concerned about falling. Or worse, some are afraid to tell anyone that they have fallen before.

Physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and doctors hear it all the time. They say that one of the primary reasons for the secretiveness is the older person’s fear that news of a fall could lead to a loss of independence. “If they know I’ve fallen,” they think, “my family’s going to put me in a nursing home.” 

Medical providers are more than willing, and even want to help with plans so that older adults can be safe and active in their homes and communities. 

Doctors can adjust medications. Often a nurse visit can be arranged so that blood pressure can be quickly assessed. A carpenter can even out a troublesome threshold. A physical therapist can address the causes of an unsteady gait. An optometrist can fit a better pair of glasses.

Family members can remind the older relatives that a few basic adjustments to one’s physical well-being and environment can be a ticket to independence -- but only if the right people know about it.

If you are a caretaker, remember to be considerate. Tell the older person that you are concerned about his or her safety.

Accompany them to a wellness checkup that will include a falls assessment, a simple, routine test.
Include the healthcare provider in the conversation about preventing falls.
Caretakers, remember to be positive and be aware of the individual’s communications styles and preferences.
Remember that the conversation might have to happen more than once. Try to keep the conversation going.

Fall Preventive Initiatives in Tennessee

Tennessee Falls Prevention Coalition 
TCAD hosts the Tennessee Falls Prevention Coalition. The Coalition has quarterly calls for anyone interested in falls prevention efforts across the state. Please contact Sidney Schuttrow at Sidney.Schuttrow@tn.gov to join the coalition and get fall prevention updates.

In support of National Fall Prevention Awareness Day on September 23, 2019, the Tennessee Fall Prevention Coalition is implementing a statewide media campaign "Falls Free Tennessee". This campaign will focus on highlighted three groups of people and who they prevent falls on a regular basis. These three groups are:

          Individual older adults
          Groups of older adults
          Partnerships that focus on fall prevention

We ask anyone wanting to participate in this campaign to complete the form below and submit a photo of the individual or group. The coalition will use the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability Facebook page to start a "Falls Free Fridays" post using submissions. The more submissions we receive the more days of the week we can highlight fall prevention across Tennessee. Please submit the form below and photos to Sidney Schuttrow at Sidney.Schuttrow@tn.gov.

        Falls Free Friday Participant Form

  • Evidence-based programs
    TCAD administers Older Americans Act funding for evidence-based health promotion and disease prevention activities. Many of these are exercise classes aimed at preventing falls. Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) is one such evidence-based fall prevention program.
  • National Fall Prevention Awareness Day
    TCAD participates in the annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day (FPAD) which raises awareness about how to prevent fall-related injuries among older adults.

Interested in learning more about fall prevention efforts in Tennessee? Email tn.aging@tn.gov for more information.

[1] United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Healthy People 2020 Topics & Objectives, Older Adults.”

 

  1. University of Tennessee Extension conducts educational programs for people of all ages including seniors. Locate your local Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agent here:  Office Locations, Departments, and Centers
  2. MedlinePlus: Fall Risk Assessment
  3. Centers for Disease Control: Important Facts about Falls | Home and Recreational Safety
  4. CDC: What You Can Do To Prevent Falls
  5. CDC: Stay Independent
  6. CDC: Check For Safety A Home Fall Prevention Checklist For Older Adults
  7. CDC: Postural Hypotension What it is & How to Manage it
  8. The Lift is a full range state-of-the art facility offering wellness classes, rehabilitation, and disease and weight management services to help with health management in west Tennessee Lift Jackson - Lift Jackson

 

Acknowledgements

List of advisers, panelists and resources that helped us create this page.

Content Reviewers:

Carlene Johnson, OTD, OTR/L CAPS, Home Modifications Occupational Therapy Association 

Dama Cooley, Nursing Instructor, Jackson State Community College

June Puett, UT Extension Agent, Hamilton County 

Lisa Harrison, Physical Therapist, CHI Memorial Healthcare System

Soghra Javandi, Assistant Professor, Health Specialist at the University of Tennessee