Even the fittest can fall

Speaking as someone who can't climb more than two rungs up a stepladder without teetering, I wanted to say a few words about falls.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, falls are the leading cause of injury among older folks like me. About a third of us experience at least one such event a year, and falls cause 85 per cent of trauma-related hospitalizations among seniors. The two most common injuries are hip fractures and damage to the head and neck.

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Overconfidence is a leading factor. We know these things happen, but we don't believe they'll happen to us.

Part of that is down to a misperception. Most of us know better than to climb on the roof to clean off moss or to hurry down an icy sidewalk.

The dangers there are obvious. By avoiding them, we think we've handled the problem.

But half of all falls happen at home, in completely predictable circumstances.

The three most hazardous areas are stairs, the bathroom and the kitchen. The first of these speaks for itself.

The latter two are dangerous because there are usually slippery substances present. There are, fortunately, ways you can protect yourself.

Make sure you have non-slip surfaces in the bath or shower. Grab bars can help you sit and stand. Ideally, you want professional help with the installation. While it's a bit more expensive than doing it yourself, an improperly anchored grab bar is a recipe for trouble.

If you have stairs, make sure there are solid handrails on both sides, and take a tip from me. Remove your reading glasses, particularly on the way down. I know whereof I speak.

And never hurry. We've all at one time or another rushed downstairs to answer the phone. But this is a major cause of accidents in the home.

If you polish your floor with wax, make sure it's the non-skid variety. And spilled water on the kitchen floor is a face-plant waiting to happen.

Beyond that, there are other precautions worth taking. Scatter mats are a hazard. Either get rid of them or tape them down. Install night lights. And make sure you don't leave things lying on the floor between your bedroom and the bathroom.

Be careful about standing up too quickly, especially if you have low blood pressure. A sudden rise can leave you faint or dizzy.

I'm the last person to be giving this advice, because I never do it, but in snowy weather, keep your front steps and pathways clear. A mixture of salt and sand will help melt any ice that might have formed. And ask a neighbour for help if the task is beyond you.

If you do tip over, try to land on your backside. And don't be in a hurry to get up. Your body needs a few moments to readjust.

I appreciate all of this sounds like nothing more than common sense. Yet consider the facts.

In 2016, falls resulted in 1,800 reported emergency department visits and 417 hospital admissions every day, nationwide. And the average length of those hospital stays was two weeks, twice the average for other admissions. Who needs that?

Then again, leaving aside the human toll, those visits and admissions cost $2.33 billion, and that's excluding Quebec, which, considering itself a separate nation, is leery about contributing data to CIHI.

All of which is to say that as our population ages, it becomes ever more important to take preventive measures. Even the fittest among us can come a cropper.

So give your house a good look. If there are things you can do to make it safer, now is the time to do them.

Tomorrow you might be dialling 911 and asking for an ambulance.

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