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Holiday, winter months could lead to falls by elderly

By JR Ortega
Dec. 5, 2010 at 6:05 a.m.

Chris Miska, a physical therapy assistant with Girling Health Care, evaluates Helen Alvarado following physical therapy for an injury caused by falling in her home. Since her fall, Alvarado has become proactive in preventing possible future injuries by removing loose carpets or problematic furniture from her home.

SIGNS, SYMPTOMS OF THOSE AT RISK OF FALLING History of falls

Taking four or more medications

Taking blood pressure medication

Trouble with balance

Using an assistive device for walking

Bladder disorders

Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis

Neurological disorders

Diabetes

Decreased sensation or swelling of the feet

ENVIRONMENTAL SIGNS YOU ARE AT RISK OF FALLINGPoor lighting

Loose throw rugs

Unsafe stairs

No railing on stairs

Clutter in pathways

Wet floors

Pets underfoot

The wood-framed home settled as Helen Alvarado crept her way toward the bathroom during the middle of the night.

The 85-year-old, in a drowsy state, attempted to sit on the toilet seat, but a sense of unbalance sent her to the floor - directly onto her left knee.

"At first it was very painful," the Victoria woman recalled as a physical therapy assistant from Girling Home Health readied to take her blood pressure.

Alvarado's fall is common.

And the risk of elderly falling is much higher during the holidays because of changes in environment, weather and the sense of the holiday hustle, said Doug Ellett, a physical therapist and head rehabilitation supervisor at Girling Health Care.

"I don't know any statistics, but I think we have a lot more incidents," Ellett said.

One in three adults age 65 and older falls each year.

In Victoria, about 10 percent of emergency calls made a year are fall-related, said Tim Hunter, a training officer at the Victoria Fire Department.

The percentage includes falls of all ages and equates to about 625 calls a year.

Their data, however, does not support that more falls occur during the winter months.

"I think it's just pretty steady. No huge increases," he said.

The message of being cautious of your surroundings still needs to be spread despite the lack of local and national data regarding falls around the holidays, Ellett said.

Traveling, spending the night at a relative's unfamiliar home, or even having holiday clutter around the home can all increase those chances, he said.

"People are a little more injury prone," he said.

With Alvarado, her therapy is twice a week.

She also fell in the most common place for falls - the bathroom.

Bathrooms are usually cramped and the floors can be slippery, Chris Miska, a physical therapy assistant with Girling Health Care, said.

"Luckily the pain in her knee went away pretty quick," Miska said. "She does have some lower back pain, but that is chronic."

After three weeks of therapy, she can feel the strength coming back in her knee, though it is still bruised and swollen.

She has another three weeks of therapy left.

Therapy schedules vary from patient-to-patient depending on the severity of their injury, Miska said.

Alvarado, for instance, receives general strengthening exercises.

She has used the therapy services at Girling in 2000 after a total knee replacement surgery and a fall shortly after because of a prescribed medication, which made her dizzy, she said.

"It's good therapy and I like it," she said. "I had had it before and it helped very, very much and I was very happy about it."

Though her fall was not directly related to the holidays, she's adamant that the elderly are at high risk.

She focused on her cousin, who is also elderly and tripped on a rug in her home.

Alvarado has chosen to remove all rugs and furniture that could lead to her injuring herself.

"It can happen to anybody," she said. "That's easy for an old person to do."

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