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A few years ago during a family trip to California with my mother, we were making our way down a trail along the Pacific coast. I didn't assess the risks as carefully as I should have. While my mom is fit and healthy, the hike was risky and she almost slipped and fell.
This close call reinforced my awareness of the hazards facing my mom and other older Americans. Falls are by far the top risk to this group; the National Safety Council Injury Facts 2016 reported more than 25,000 fall-related fatalities in 2013 for people ages 65 and over. Falls were the cause of 55% of unintentional injury deaths for this age group, substantially exceeding any of the other causes.
Falls pose an overwhelming risk, and now is the time to take steps to prevent them. May is Older Americans Month, and this represents an opportunity for everyone – young and old alike – to make life safer for older family members and friends. By proactively taking some of these steps, we can limit the number of older Americans who are killed or injured in a fall.
Actions such as installing non-slip adhesive strips on stairs, mounting handrails on both sides of stairways and providing adequate lighting on walkways inside and out improve the environment for everyone. Research published by the National Institutes of Health has found that adults can benefit from exercise programs, such as tai chi, that improve their strength and balance and reduce the likelihood of injuries from falls.
There are many reasons why we might not be as aggressive in addressing the safety risks around us. We might be hesitant to instruct our elders what to do. We might be afraid of presumptively changing their environment.
But the old adage about an ounce of prevention? Well, it applies here, and all of us can benefit from a safer environment and being healthier. Our parents looked out for us when we were younger. Now it's our turn to assess the risks in their lives.