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A fall can permanently alter your way of life

(ran TP edition)

Nationwide, the death rate for falls for people of all ages is 3.1 per 100,000 people per year. For those ages 64 to 74, it's 8.5 per 100,000 people and for those 75 and older, it's 56.7 per 100,000 people. One out of every five women 65 or older will suffer a hip fracture at some time during her life.

One percent of all falls result in a hip fracture _ 290,000 cases per year. Of those who have fallen, 33 percent will recover completely, 34 percent will require assisted living because of immobility and 33 percent will die from complications during the first year.

To an elderly person, a fall can mean more than a hip fracture or other serious injury. It can mean the difference between independence, living in a nursing home or even a slow death.

Prevention is the word. Falls are not a normal part of the aging process. What can you do to prevent becoming a statistic?

No. 1 is the big E-word: Exercise. Exercise regularly to improve muscle flexibility and strength. There are many forms of exercise _ swimming, walking, biking, weight lifting, low-impact aerobics, dancing, etc. _ and they are all beneficial. The important thing to remember is to do something you enjoy and on a regular basis.

Fall-proof your home by doing the following:

Have a light switch you can reach easily without getting out of bed.

Remove all clutter from floors and stairways.

Add grab bars in shower and tub areas.

Remove throw rugs.

Have your hearing and vision tested regularly.

Review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist.

Wear non-slip comfortable shoes.

Use handrails on stairs, inside and outside your home.

Don't rush to answer the telephone or door.

Pay attention to what you are doing.

Special precautions are needed when you already have a balance problem because of a chronic condition such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease or other neuromuscular conditions, or if you have poor vision, osteoporosis, dizzy spells, etc., or use devices to aid with your mobility.

Finally, it's easier to avoid accidents when you are feeling well and have a positive attitude. Exercise, a good diet and adequate rest can help you to stay alert and prevent falls.

Know how to fall

When you feel yourself falling, it's natural to tense up, to resist, to put out your arms to take the shock. Instead, do the following:

Do not fight a fall.

Relax and go limp.

Try to roll as you fall to reduce impact.

Bend your arms so you can ease yourself down.

What to do if you fall

Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself.

Notice if you are hurt. Can you move?

If you fall on your back, roll onto your side and then onto your stomach. Never try to get up directly from your back.

Take your time and move slowly.

If you can, crawl to a strong piece of furniture and pull yourself up.

If you can't get up, try to slowly crawl to a phone and call a neighbor or 911.

_ This monthly column is provided by the Area Agency on Aging for Hillsborough County. It is written by local experts and members of the agency's advisory council. You can reach the agency at 623-2244. This month's columnist is Helene Golabek, manager of SeniorCare at University Community Hospital in Tampa.