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Assessing your risk of taking a fall

Injuries obtained from falling send 3 million Americans to the ER each year. Many suffer life-changing hip fractures or head injuries.
Injuries obtained from falling send 3 million Americans to the ER each year. Many suffer life-changing hip fractures or head injuries.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Every year, fall injuries send 3 million Americans to the emergency room for treatment. How can seniors get an accurate picture of their fall risk helping them prevent serious injury or worse?

Pedro and Hilda Rivera get outside almost every day. Lately, they’ve become more in tune with their surroundings.

“If I’m coming on uneven terrain, I’m paying attention,” Hilda said.

Fatalities related to falls among seniors have increased 30% since 2009.

Ladda Thiamwong, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Central Florida, and her team have developed an assessment that measures a senior’s physical risk of falling. Participants stand barefoot on a scale and close their eyes.

“When you close your eyes, you don’t feel secure. You’re going to tend to move,” Thiamwong said.

The scale is connected to a computer. It calculates how much a person sways. It’s a measure of balance.

Thiamwong and her colleagues also assess a person’s perceptions of falling, even if they’ve never fallen before, fear of falling can have a big impact.

“They can isolate themselves. They don’t want to do anything. Then their muscles gonna weak and then they gonna fall,” she said.

Experts say one of the best ways to prevent a fall is to do exercises that make your legs stronger like walking, biking, or swimming. Incorporate exercise that improves balance like tai chi or yoga.

For Pedro and Hilda, their daily walk could protect their lives and their quality of life.

“We don’t want to live in assisted living. We want to live in our house for as long as we can,” Pedro said.

Professor Thiamwong has developed the assessment so that it can be performed with lightweight, portable sensors. The goal is to travel to senior centers to take assessments to them rather than rely on participants coming to an office or lab to learn their fall risk.