Adding calcium to diet, good shoes and staying inside more reduces risks
By Rachel Stern
Last week, Edward Mann, 65, slipped and fell on a large patch of ice in front of his Upper West Side apartment, injuring his hip. Determined to stay independent, he slowly forged down Broadway with a walker on Sunday afternoon.
â€œThe ice is very scary, said Mann, who spends several minutes descending the three steps in front of his building, worried about possible ice. â€œI have to be very careful.
With frigid temperatures dipping as low as 6 degrees in the past week, New York City streets have become a breeding ground for ice's putting those 65 and older, a demographic more susceptible to injury or death from falling, especially at risk.
â€œThe risk is heightened because of the problem of no friction, said Dr. Jon Pynoos, the director of the Fall Prevention Center at the University of Southern California. â€œThe ice is so slippery that it"s hard to regain balance.
For those 65 and older, falling carries especially large risks. Currently, falls are the main cause of death by injury for seniors: there were 18,000 fatalities nationwide from unintentional fall injuries in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the most well known incidents occurred in 2003, when weight loss guru Robert Atkins died at the age of 71 after sustaining head injuries from falling on ice while walking to his Upper East Side office.
There are several non-fatal falls among older adults in the U.S. as well. In 2009, 2.2 million nonfatal falls were treated in emergency room departments, with about 600,000 patients hospitalized.
Twenty to 30 percent of seniors who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as hip fractures, head traumas and lacerations, according to the CDC. The bulk of fractures suffered by seniors are caused by falls, with the most common damage to the spine, hip, forearms and legs.
â€œWhen you"re younger and you fall, you quickly get up. When you"re my age, you"re not as resilient, said Upper West Side resident Michael, 71, withholding his last name.
One in three seniors fall every year, according to the CDC. But the risk of the fall leading to a fatality increases with age. In 2009, the number of fall injuries for those 85 and older was nearly four times higher than for adults 65 to 74.
Furthermore, those 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely to spend a year or more in a long-term care facility than those ages 65-74 who fall.
Still, there are many ways for seniors to alleviate the risk of falling, particularly on ice, said Pynoos, who"s also a gerontology professor.
In general, it"s possible to mitigate the risk of falling through high calcium intake, which improves bone density, and exercise, as a lack of activity results in poor muscle tone and decreased strength.
The most obvious way to reduce the risk of slipping on snow is staying indoors during cold weather whenever possible. When older adults know they will soon be confronted with a storm, they should stock up on groceries and other household essentials, said Pynoos, minimizing the time they have to spend outside of their home.
And when the coldest days crawl into the city, â€œthat"s a good time to order in, said Pynoos.
When people must venture outdoors, they should make sure it"s during the warmest hours of the day. The ice minimizes the typical visual cues people use to navigate their environment, a problem especially at night.
Older adults should wear sturdy shoes with a lot of traction, and's if possible's bring a friend or family member along. Neighbors at the many â€œinter-generational buildings in New York can further help older residents's for example, stocking up on extra food for them when they run errands. When older adults need to travel, they should utilize Access-A-Ride and taxis whenever possible, said Pynoos.
â€œSeniors should reach out for help if they need to, he added.
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