BROOKINGS, S.D. - In South Dakota, falls were the leading cause of injury and injury-related death in 2017 and 2018, and the leading cause of injury among South Dakotans age 65 and older from 2011 to 2018. However, Leacey Brown, South Dakota (SDSU) Extension Gerontology Field Specialist and chair of the South Dakota Falls Prevention Coalition, says falling should not be considered an inevitable part of getting older.
“A fall can occur in a split-second and have lasting consequences, especially among older adults,” Brown says. “What is important to understand is that being wobbly or unsteady on your feet is not a symptom of older age. That is a sign that you are at an elevated risk of falling.”
Governor Kristi Noem has declared Sept. 20-24 as Fall Prevention Awareness Week, and Brown says it’s an ideal time to remind adults about the importance of reporting fall concerns to primary care providers.
Factors that contribute to fall risk include chronic medical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or diabetes; hazards around the home; orthostatic hypotension; medications; poor gait, strength and balance; vitamin D deficiency; visual impairment or feet and footwear issues. Brown suggests visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention STEADI fall risk screening tool, which can help identify fall risk factors, as well as appropriate intervention strategies.
“As you can see, it’s not just one thing that puts you at risk for a fall,” Brown says. “That’s why a fall or a fear that you might fall need to be reported to a medical provider immediately.”
Brown says Falls Prevention Awareness Week is also a good time for adults to consider signing up for fall prevention community education classes. For example, SDSU Extension’s Better Choices Better Health SD teaches disease management skills that can help control chronic medical conditions, like diabetes and COPD, and may reduce the risk of experiencing a fall. Another example is SDSU Extension’s Fit & Strong! Program, which addresses risk factors, such as poor gait, strength and balance.
“Fit & Strong! provides participants the opportunity to learn about appropriate physical activity to strengthen the supporting muscles of the lower body, resulting in improved balance and greater confidence,” says Hope Kleine, SDSU Extension Health Education and Food Safety Field Specialist. “We have trained more than 30 instructors across the state, including physical, occupational and respiratory therapists. These partnerships have allowed us to reach a broader audience and allow for direct referrals into the Fit & Strong! program.”
Fit and Strong! is also available virtually, allowing South Dakotans to participate from their homes if they have access to the internet.
“Engaging in physical activity in a group setting is so powerful, especially when participants get the chance to discuss their day-to-day experiences and barriers with specific health-related concerns,” says Nikki Prosch, SDSU Extension Health and Physical Activity Field Specialist. “The greatest outcome of bringing Fit & Strong! to the Dakotas is the successes we hear from the participants. Many speak about the ease of performing activities of daily living after attending the program in just the first couple weeks.”
Brown says the primary goal behind the awareness week is keeping more South Dakotans on their feet.
“We hope by encouraging screening for fall risk and providing referrals to evidence-based fall prevention programs, we can intervene before the fall occurs,” Brown says.
For more information and to register for an upcoming Fit & Strong! and Better Choices Better Health SD workshop, visit the SDSU Extension website.