Madeline McMullin took a fall that “threw me for a loop” and broke her wrist, she said.
McMullin, 71, who has diabetes, lost her balance after gardening last spring.
“As I headed for the house, I was falling,” she said. “I can’t recall tripping on anything, but I was falling.”
A trip to the hospital, and a steel plate in her wrist later, McMullin had to learn how to sign her name and brush her hair with her left hand.
“This was quite a lifestyle change,” she said.
McMullin is among the one in every three people older than 65 who fall each year, according to AARP. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries for people older than 65, according to a report from the National Safety Council, and that figure is on the rise.
The mortality rate from falls among the elderly nationwide increased 39 percent between 1999 and 2005, according to the National Safety Council. Missouri ranked 14th highest in fall-related deaths among its older population, with 52 falls resulting in death for every 100,000 people older than 65.
“Every 18 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency department for a fall, and every 35 minutes someone in this population dies as a result of their injuries,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
More than $19 billion was spent in the United States in 2000 to treat people older than 65 for injuries suffered in falls, according to the CDC. The agency projected that number to increase to $43.8 billion by 2020.
Fear of falling
McMullin said she “had episodes of falling” before the spill that landed her in the hospital. She also has several friends, family and acquaintances who have fallen.
“You hear about people falling and breaking a hip, and are never able to walk again. Then you think, ‘What about me? I could be next,’ ” McMullin said.
Many older adults fear falling, said Marilyn Bajorin, a trainer for “A Matter of Balance” program offered through Care Connection Aging Services.
“They fear not being able to stay in their own homes, injury, hospital stays and losing their independence,” Bajorin said.
The fear of falling can actually increase a person’s chances of taking a spill, Bajorin said.
“If they’re more worried and tense, they’re more prone to fall,” she said. “A healthy fear is good to have.”
A lack of lower-body strength, poor flexibility and medical conditions, such as low blood sugar, are among the reasons the elderly are more likely to fall, Bajorin said. Also, some older people shuffle their feet, trip on floor rugs and are get in too big of a hurry, she said.
“Slowing down and taking time, that helps a lot,” when it comes to preventing falls, Bajorin said.
It’s a common misperception that falling more often or easily is a part of growing older, Bajorin said.
“It’s not a normal part of aging,” she said. “Just because somebody’s old doesn’t mean they are going to fall.”
In fact, falls are preventable, Bajorin said. People can prevent falls by removing hazards in their homes, such as removing throw rugs, and exercising to increase strength and flexibility.
Jo Lynn Turley, county services director for Care Connection, said the Sedalia Senior Center is offering two classes to increase strength and flexibility.
A tai chi class, taught by Turley, is scheduled from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Convention Hall beginning July 8. Sandra Rice is the instructor for an enhanced fitness class that follows from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Each course runs eight weeks.
The cost is $2 per class, or 16 classes for $28.
Bajorin taught a session of “A Matter of Balance” at the Sedalia Senior Center in March. She would like to offer a course again in the fall. The class teaches how to limit the fear of falling, exercises and tips to prevent falls.
McMullin said she was leery of walking “because I do have a balance problem,” and she doesn’t like using a cane or walker. She took the “A Matter of Balance” class and said it helped.
“I gained the confidence of how to do things, how to prevent falls and maneuver around,” she said.
For more information about the classes contact the Senior Center at 826-0713.