The University Record, April 19, 1993

Good news for elderly: many dangerous falls can be avoided

“Preventing Falls,” a critical consideration in maintaining good health among older adults, will be discussed 1–3 p.m. Wednesday (April 21) at the Kellogg Eye Center Auditorium in a seminar sponsored by Turner Geriatric Services.

Neil B. Alexander, assistant professor of internal medicine and research scientist at the Institute of Gerontology, will lead the seminar, which is based on his research into ways of maintaining body balance and minimizing dangerous falls.

“Falls are common for people of all ages but are reported more frequently in older people,” says Alexander. “The people we’re most concerned about are ‘repeat fallers.’ ”

Loosely defined as those who fall more than twice in three to six months, the good news is that an avoidable cause can often be found for frequent spills. “We used to think that falling was caused by problems either in the body or in the environment. We now believe the causes for falling are interdependent,” Alexander explains.

Patients who come to the Medical Center for an evaluation are screened to rule out certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s, that may cause frequent falling. They also have their blood pressure checked while in different body positions, and undergo a vision study, a complete neurological examination, and a study of the body’s muscular and skeletal systems. They’re also checked for inner ear problems that could interfere with balance, and doctors compile a report of the person’s medical and falling history.

The goal of such an evaluation is to determine whether overlapping factors such as medication, household floor surfaces or even the time of day might be contributing to the problem.

Interventions range from exercises to increase strength and coordination, to devices such as canes and walkers. People also may be advised to avoid potentially unsafe situations, such as walking in the dark or on surfaces such as gravel or deep-pile carpet. Surroundings may need to be modified to enhance safety.

Falling research not only looks for causes but aims to develop more effective prevention strategies. For example, the level of confidence a person feels about his or her ability to get up or walk without falling may play a role in falling prevention, Alexander says.

For information about the seminar, call Turner Geriatric Services, the sponsor, at 764-2556.