My last column raising awareness of the dangers of seniors falling at home hit Carla Green.
Her father, Carl Kedl, 88, died last month after falling down the basement steps of his home near Lancaster.
She agreed to share her heartbreaking story with me in the hope that by continuing to highlight this common issue, other families could be spared a similar tragedy.
“It wasn’t a really good staircase,” said Green of Walnutport. “We never thought of looking at the stairs or anything like that. People should be careful. Walk through the house and think about what might happen.”
Green told me her father was a “good” 88er. He celebrated his birthday on the beach and often went for walks. To stay active he worked at Wegmans in Lancaster until about a year ago.
“He was the total energizer bunny,” she said.
Aware of the dangers of a fall, he told Green that on his walks he would look down to look for uneven sidewalks.
“So he was aware that he had fallen while he was outside,” Green told me. “But he didn’t think about doing things in the house, and neither did I.”
She shouldn’t blame herself and neither should others in her situation.
As I said in my previous column, preventing falls can be a challenge. About one in four older adults in Pennsylvania has had a fall, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In case you missed this column, I let you know that falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths in Lehigh County. By the end of October there had been 183 fatal falls, the vast majority of them elderly people, most of whom fell at home alone.
I highlighted the issue after seeing the Lehigh County coroner investigate the deaths of six seniors from falls over a 10-day period.
Unfortunately, there have been more fatal falls in the Lehigh Valley since then. Most recently, an 89-year-old man from the municipality of Weisenberg died in a hospital on Saturday as a result of injuries he sustained in a fall a month earlier.
Green said her father didn’t think of himself as old and didn’t like to talk about his health because it made him feel old.
That’s part of what makes dealing with the dangers of falls so challenging. Some older people may not want to have the discussion. Green urges people to persevere to ensure the discussion takes place.
“I hope your article will make some people wake up and realize that there is something they can do to help their friends and family live more safely,” she told me.
Green, who is 66, told me she decided to age-appropriate her own shower first.
She offered a tip to help people avoid falls, which she got from a physical therapist friend. She said older people who wrap themselves in blankets to keep warm should be careful how they throw the blanket away when they get up from their seat. Don’t just drop it at your feet where it can be tripped over. Set it aside.
I’ve also heard from a few others who have offered advice. Ron Pizarie, 81, of East Allen Township, warned against shuffling your feet when you walk.
He broke his femur four years ago when a ladder fell while he was putting up Christmas lights. He went through about six months of intensive therapy.
“In therapy I actually had to learn to walk again,” Pizarie told me. “Therapists kept preaching ‘heel to toe, heel to toe’ until I unconsciously put my heel first and then my toe down.
“One therapist explained to me that he believes the most common cause of falls in seniors is not walking properly, heel first and toes second. They tend to shuffle their feet, which in most cases leads to falls. For example, if you shuffle your feet or slide on their soles, you risk tripping over a simple wave in a carpet.”
Pizarie told me he had to practice for a long time before it became automatic.
Another reader told me that she has attended fall prevention seminars and that it is important to be aware of the potential side effects of medications, which can include dizziness.
Wearing shoes that are too big or pants that drag on the floor can be dangerous, she said.
Repeating my previous column, here are fall prevention tips from AARP, Lehigh County, and other sources.
- Make sure indoor and outdoor stairs have a handrail. Attach blue painter’s tape to the edge of the steps to make them stand out. Consider building a ramp to replace outdoor stairs.
- Repair uneven walkways and steps inside and outside your home.
- Install a higher toilet or seat extender, which are more suitable for people with arthritis or knee problems. Install grab bars near the shower, bath, and toilet.
- Remove throws that are easy to trip over. If you must have a rug in the bathroom, make sure it has a non-slip backing. Use brightly colored rugs that are easy to spot.
- Learn how to properly use a cane or walker.
- Keep floors and walkways free of clutter, including extension cords and unnecessary furnishings.
- Provide good lighting. Use night lights. Complement darker areas by opening blinds to let in sunlight during the day.
- Conduct regular eye tests. If you are prescribed glasses, wear them at all times, including when you get up at night to go to the bathroom.
- Know where your pets are. Many people trip over their dog or their dog’s toy.
- Do sports regularly. Exercise can improve balance, coordination, and strength.
Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or [email protected]