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From the Chicago Tribune:

Falls are the leading cause of accidental death in people 65 years old and older.

"It's also the most common cause of hip fracture in people 70 years old and older," says Dr. Ning Sun, a neurologist on staff at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. "Falls are also a marker for poor health and declining function."

While some injuries fall into the minor category of scrapes and bruises, Dr. Roy L. Adair, Chair & Medical Director Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, agrees falling presents more of a danger to the elderly as opposed to those younger.

"We commonly see more severe injuries like head injury with attendant traumatic brain injury (TBI), intracerebral bleeding or bruising, fractures of the wrist or shoulder, spine fractures, hip fractures and foot and ankle fractures," says Adair. "Protective reflexes are slower in the elderly."

Danger zones

Winter's slippery sidewalks exacerbate the problem. "In the hospital setting, we definitely see a higher frequency of adults post-fall around the winter time," says Beth Gorman, coordinator of Physical Therapy and Rehab Technician Team Advocate at Christ Medical Center. "This is most commonly due to the icy and snowy conditions."

Make sure snow and ice are removed from pathways and also be aware of footwear with good traction. "Don't wear those nice leather soled shoes — they are slippery when wet," says Adair.

Inside the home, environmental hazards include such offenders as rickety ladders, throw rugs and slippery bathroom surfaces.

"Elderly folks should remove all throw rugs in the home, EVEN though they may look nice," says Adair.

In the bathroom, make use of assistive devices such as grab bars, a shower seat, a non-slip surface in the tub, and a toilet frame with handrails as needed based on the level of balance impairment, advises Adair.

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