Fighting falls: Simple steps may prevent injuries

photo Christin McWhorter, left, and Becca Summers demonstrate exercises during a class about fall prevention.

FOUR THINGS TO MAKE YOU SAFER• Exercise regularly.• Have a doctor reviews your medications.• Have your vision checked.• Make your home safer.Source: cdc.comBY THE NUMBERSIn 2011 in Hamilton County:* 32: Number of adults, 65 and older, who died because of a fall-related injury.* 86: Percentage of fall-related fatalities involving people 65 and older.* 2,081: Number of adults, 65 and older, who visited a county emergency department because of a fall.* 6: Average daily number of older adults who visited the emergency department because of a fall.* 751: Number of adults, 65 and older, who were hospitalized because of a fall injury.* 2: Average daily number of older adults hospitalized because of a fall.* $38.4 million: Total hospital charges for fall injuries in all ages; does not include rehabilitation, emergency medical services, and physician costs.* 73 : Percentage of fall-related hospitalizations involving people 65 or older.Source: Tennessee Department of Health, Division of Health StatisticsIF YOU GOWhat: Falls Prevention Awareness Day.When: 9-11 a.m. FridayWhere: Lowe's, 5428 Highway 153.In addition: In conjunction with the event, anyone may sign up for free Balance Screenings offered at Life Care Center of Hixson, 5798 Hixson Homeplace; 2:30-4 p.m. Wednesday,, Sept. 25, 591-6650; or Siskin Hospital Outpatient Therapy Department, One Siskin Plaza, 9 a.m.-noon. Friday, Sept. 27, 634-1217.A Matter of BalanceUpcoming programs run eight weeks with about 10 people per class.• Life Care Center of Hixson, 5798 Hixson Homeplace, 1:30-3:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct. 2- Nov. 20, 1 591-6650.• Chattanooga Fitness Center and Warner Park, 1245 E. 3rd St., 1-3 p.m. Fridays, Sept. 20-Nov. 8, 697-1320.• Mt. Canaan Baptist Church,2800 N. Chamberlain Ave., 3-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Oct. 1-Nov. 19, 624-4080.

Every 11 days, an older adult died from a fall in Hamilton County in 2011, according to health department statistics.

Many didn't have to happen, according to Public Health Educator Carleena Angwin.

"Falls are very preventable," she says, "and making simple changes like having medications reviewed every year, raising toilet seats and installing rails and getting rid of throw rugs and slippers can help prevent them. Proper footwear is very important, and another big one is exercise."

Through her department, Angwin trains people who run workshops designed to educate people on things they can do to prevent a fall, which can lead directly or indirectly to serious injuries. A bad knock on the head can be devastating, but recovering from even a minor fall can take longer and be more difficult for an older adult.

Part of the education process involves convincing older people to let someone know when they suffer even what might seem to be a minor incident. The fall can be an indication that something larger is the cause, or it can simply mean a change in lifestyle is needed. The cure can sometimes be as simple as replacing a burned-out light bulb, removing a throw rug or installing a hand rail.

Mae Petty has been certified by the county through its Master Trainer program, which was originally developed at Boston University and now helps to run the free eight-week classes. Anyone can attend the classes, and family members or neighbors can come to learn how to help a loved one prevent a fall.

"You learn how to better yourself and to prevent falls," she says. "We've had people from [age] 57 to 90 in the class."

Older people are often afraid to tell someone they have suffered a fall out of fear of having their independence taken from them. Instead of talking about it, they isolate themselves inside their homes, which results in being less active, weakening foot, ankle and leg muscles and making them more susceptible to more serious falls.

In a recent initial class of 15 participants, Petty says, all said they'd recently suffered a fall and all said they had not told anyone.

"They said they thought, 'People will start thinking, 'Oh my gosh, he or she can't take care of themselves.' They worried their independence would be taken away, so it's best not to say anything," Petty says.

But that's not the case, she says. By telling someone, or even writing down the circumstances, they might be able to identify patterns or problems and fix them.

"Simple things like improper shoes or a change in medication can be a cause," Petty says.

The classes help people think about such things and learn what to look out for, she says.

Judy Horton, 63, and her mother, Roweena Phillips, 83, recently completed an eight-week A Matter of Balance course. "We had a ball," Horton says.

Phillips recently had knee, hip and shoulder surgeries, and her daughter was especially interested in learning the exercises taught in the class.

"You can do them while sitting watching TV, and then stand behind a chair for some of them," Horton says. "You don't have to lie on the floor or need a mat. They help a lot. It really is all about balance and these strengthen the ankles and legs."

A Falls Prevention Awareness Day event will be held Friday at the Lowe's in Hixson in conjunction with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Siskin Rehab, Area Agency on Aging, Life Care Center of Hixson, Lowe's and other agencies who have partnered together to provide information for older adults, caregivers, service providers and family members.

"UTC health professions students and faculty from physical therapy, athletic training, occupational therapy, social work and the Family Nurse Practitioner program will ... demonstrate to older adults items that can be used in the home to create safer living conditions," says Candace Bishop, UTC School of Nursing faculty coordinator.

Siskin staff "will demonstrate commonly used assistive devices to improve safety and independence with daily activities," says Amy Burba, occupational therapy supervisor at Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation. "In addition, they will provide information on balance screenings and programs available at the hospital designed to help decrease the risk of falls."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at or 423-7576354.