It’s Not Normal: Falls

Cleveland, MaryJo 4x6Maryjo L. Cleveland, MD
Medical Director, Post Acute & Senior Services
Chief, Division of Geriatric Medicine
Summa Health System
Akron, Ohio 

It is the middle of winter here in Cleveland and we have experienced an unusual amount of snow, sleet and ice. In fact, if you live anywhere with winter, I’ll bet this weather has been challenging. One problem that we see more of in the winter is falls. I ask all of my patients if they have experienced a fall.  Can you  guess the most common answer I get? It isn’t “no”— it’s “not yet.”  Isn’t that interesting? That answer means that they expect to fall sometime. In other words, they think it’s normal. But we are here to find out otherwise!

Falls are certainly common. Most people can tell you about friends or family members who have fallen and suffered a serious injury from a fall, such as a broken hip. Most people also tell me that falling is one of the things they fear the most. The good news is that while falls are common, they are not inevitable. There are well defined risk factors that make it more likely for someone to fall.   And there are also recommendations on how to prevent falls. These recommendations will require you and your healthcare professional to work closely together.

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Heart Healthy Reflections for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a time of flowers, chocolate hearts, and celebrations of love and life.  For thousands of years, the heart has symbolized love and passion and has inspired great poetry, literature, art, and music. But maybe this year we should start a new tradition on Valentine’s Day: To check in with ourselves and those around us to look for signs of heart disease.

There are several types of heart disease, with coronary artery disease being the most common. It is estimated that more than 80 million Americans have at least one major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels.

All told, some one million people a year will die of heart disease. Though one of the risk factors is advancing age, more than 150,000 heart disease and stroke deaths every year are among people younger than 65. With the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes rates in children, we will likely see increased rates of heart disease and stroke occurring at earlier ages. Continue reading

My Favorite Time of Year…

This time of year has always been one of my favorites. It’s a time when things slow down a bit, allowing more time with family and friends – time to catch up, celebrate cherished rituals, and enjoy favorite foods and one another’s company. But while this can be a wonderful time of year, it can also be challenging, particularly for older adults.

For some older people, the end of another year can be a powerful reminder of how many years have already passed. Traditions like lighting the menorah candles or decorating the Christmas tree may bring to mind family and friends who are no longer with us. For some older adults, health problems can make it difficult, or perhaps impossible, to travel to traditional get-togethers with relatives and old friends. All of these things can contribute to the “holiday blues” or, more seriously, depression.

In colder parts of the country older adults may face other challenges. Older people run higher risks of injuries while shoveling snow, for example, and are more likely to develop frostbite and hypothermia –  a life-threating condition in which your body temperature drops to dangerous levels. Snow and icy weather can also put older adults at risk of falls and fractures.

The good news, however, is that there are many things older people, and their caregivers, can do to help address these problems. And you’ll find them on healthinaging.org – the source of a wealth of easy-to-read health information for seniors that’s reviewed by leading experts in elder health. These include:

You’ll also find 10 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Older Adults on healthinaging.org. I recommend it for adults of all ages. In fact, I’ve resolved to make a few of the ten my own this New Year.

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy season!

Falls Prevention Video Series

Every 15 seconds—roughly the time it’ll take you to read this sentence—an older adult falls and suffers serious injuries. This simply shouldn’t happen. Some age-related changes—for example, in your vision, balance, and flexibility—increase risks of falling, but there’s a great deal you can do to prevent falls in later life.  

The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging is committed to helping prevent falls.  We have created a series of five new, easy-to-follow videos illustrating how older adults can avoid falls. I encourage you to take a look and to share these videos with others.

The Foundation’s new falls prevention videos cover:

What you can do to avoid falls at home—simple things you can do to prevent falls, such as making sure all your rugs are firmly fastened to the floor or have nonskid backing; and installing night-lights in your bedroom, hallways, and bathroom.

Falls assessment—a quick, simple, and reliable test your healthcare provider can use to determine whether you’re at increased risk of falling.

How your healthcare professional can help lower your risk—things your healthcare provider can do to help you lower your odds of falling, such as : identifying whether any of your medications or supplements might increase  your risk of a fall and finding safer alternatives; and checking your balance, vision, leg strength, blood pressure, and the way you walk, and recommending exercises and lifestyle changes to make you surer on your feet.

How to choose and use a cane—expert advice for choosing the right cane, in the right size, and using it appropriately.

How to choose an use a walker—an explanation of the different types of walkers, and advice for finding and using the right one.

The expert content for all five videos comes from Healthinaging.org, which includes a wealth of additional information, tips, and tools to help older adults prevent falls. Just type “falls” in the search box above, and start lowering your risk today.

Getting Your Flu Shot

With autumn just around the corner, now’s the ideal time to get your flu shot.  Influenza season can start as early as October, and it takes your body about two weeks to respond to the vaccine by creating the flu-fighting antibodies you need to fight off the virus. That’s why healthcare professionals recommend getting the shot as soon as it becomes available in your community— usually early September. I’m planning to get my shot when I see my healthcare provider this month.

If you’re 65 or older, it’s particularly important to get vaccinated. Older adults run an increased risk of potentially serious complications of the flu, such as pneumonia. Some people, however, should talk with their healthcare provider before getting a flu shot, especially if you’ve experienced any of the following:

  • severe allergic reaction to chicken eggs
  • have had a serious reaction to the flu shot in the past
  • have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome

And if you have a fever, hold off until it’s gone before getting your shot .

Though some vaccines protect you for years, the flu shot is only effective for one year.  Why? The flu virus is constantly changing, so the vaccine that worked against last year’s virus won’t take care of this year’s. Don’t skip a year!

Good news: Medicare covers annual flu shots, and there’s no copay. You can get the flu vaccine from your healthcare professional, or at senior centers, urgent care clinics, and health departments.   Many retail pharmacies also offer the flu shot for a small fee.  As of late August, the vaccine was available in many communities throughout the U.S. To find where you can get a shot near you, visit the frequently updated Flu Vaccine Locator on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

And for more information about the flu and other essential immunizations for older people, take a look at these tipsheets: “Flu Prevention and Treatment Tips” and “Essential Vaccination Information for Older Adults.”