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Awareness at heart of Senior Fall Prevention week

Posted: September 21, 2011 - 8:00am  |  Updated: September 21, 2011 - 8:36am

To raise awareness throughout the senior community, Gov. Sean Parnell designated Sept. 18 through 24 as Senior Fall Prevention week.

"Fall prevention education is an important first step to making positive changes that will help prevent older Alaskans from falling," Parnell wrote in the proclamation, "And improve their overall health and quality of life."

Falls are one of the most frequent injuries among senior citizens. According to the proclamation, falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries in Alaska for people age 55 and older, and of fatal injuries for people 75 and older.

Central Emergency Services Fire Chief Chris Mokracek said CES receives about 2,100 to 2,200 total calls yearly.

"In 2010 CES responded to 77 falls," Mokracek said. "So far to date in 2011, we're responded to 59."

Central Peninsula Hospital sees one or two patients a week whose injuries were caused by a fall, said Andie Posey, CPH chief nursing officer.

"I'd say at any given time we have one or two patients here that either have a hip fracture from a fall, or some other kind of injury from a fall," Posey said.

Hip fractures are the most common injuries sustained from a fall, Gypsy Jolly, a nursing director at CPH said.

"A lot of times that requires surgery," Jolly said.

To avoid injuries from falls, Posey suggests senior citizens to be screened by a doctor for osteoporosis - a disease that causes bones to become weaker over time.

"A lot of times the actual injuries that occur are due to low bone density, if they have fragile bones," Posey said. "So knowing you have fragile bones and to get on a medical plan for that is a very important thing to do."

Another way to avoid injuries is to have a safety assessment of the residence, Posey said.

Medical alert services such as Lifeline can be a valuable tool if senior citizens fall while they are alone, or have difficulty getting back up due to injuries sustained. Jolly said the Lifeline device can detect if a fall has taken place, and will alert CES immediately.

"We currently have about 400 people on our Lifeline program" Jolly said. "If they fall and they're unable to push the button, these (devices) can determine if it was a fall and alarm CES.

"It's just a safety mechanism in case they do fall."

Jolly said exercise is a good way to keep the body resilient.

"One thing that helps prevent injuries, is just exercise," Jolly said. "Being involved with some sort of physical activity - keeping your muscles strong keeps you safer."

Posey said having a week once a year is a bit small compared to the issue at hand, but it is time well spent.

"Anytime you can raise awareness and help people become educated is always a good thing and worth doing," she said.

For more information about fall prevention visit the Alaska Commission on Aging at http://www.hss.state.ak.us/acoa

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