Avoiding falls in the senior population

Falling is a serious problem among older adults. Falls can lead to serious injury and long-term consequences. Understanding falls among older adults can help loved ones reduce the risks of falls and protect older adults’ health and safety.

Causes of falls among older adults

There are a number of things that contribute to falls in older adults. Some of these factors can be controlled with lifestyle changes and support from caregivers while other factors cannot be controlled in adults’ lives. Here are some common causes of falls among older adults:

• Reduced mobility due to age and frailty

• Illness, such as one that causes dizziness or unsteadiness

• Injury, such as one that affects mobility

• Medication side effects

• Numbness in feet and/or legs

• Dehydration

• Chronic pain

• Urinary incontinence or frequent, urgent trips to the bathroom

• Brain or mood disorders, such as dementia

• Improper environment, such as shoes that do not fit

Though all of these causes can contribute to falls among older adults, dizziness is another significant risk factor. Dizziness can be brought on by medications, illnesses, low blood pressure, and other conditions. Dizziness can lead to unsteadiness. When paired with other risk factors, this can lead to an increased risk of falls in older adults.

Effects of falls

While falls can be painful for all people, they can be particularly harmful for older adults. In fact, falls among older adults are a significant cause of serious injury or complications after an injury or surgical procedure. Since older adults are often frailer, they may break bones or dislocate joints, even from a short fall.

If the fall comes after a surgical procedure, such as in the hospital, there is a risk of harm to the surgical site, infection, or additional injuries that would lengthen the hospital stay and potentially cause distress to the patient and family.

Due to the injuries that older adults can experience after a fall, there can be long-term consequences. For example, a bone break or dislocated hip can mean the older adult is no longer able to walk independently.

Treating falls

If an older adult experiences a fall, the first step should be to seek medical attention. Even if the fall seems minor or that no injury occurred, seeking medical attention will ensure that everything is okay and address any problems that may have occurred. Not only will a physician determine if any injuries have occurred but the physician will help determine the cause of the fall, which may be another area of health that needs to be addressed.

If an injury has occurred, such as a broken bone or dislocated hip, the physician will develop a treatment plan to be carried out for the older adult. This may include a rehabilitation program and ongoing care.

The physician may also develop a treatment plan to address the cause of the fall. For example, if an older adult’s medication is causing dizziness, a physician may adjust the dosage or change the medication completely.

Preventing falls

Preventing falls is an effective way to prevent the negative effects of falls in older adults. While not all causes of falls can be avoided, such as frailty and limited mobility, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of a fall at home.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors refer to the elements of the home that can contribute to a fall. Uneven or changing floor environments, such as area rugs, stairs, or a sunken living room, can lead to a fall, especially if the older adult is not familiar with the home. Paths should be even and clear of clutter. Inclines, ramps, and stairs should have handrails.

Along with this, older adults should have shoes that fit well or slippers with non-slip bottoms to minimize the risk of falls when walking. If mobility is limited, assistive devices, such as canes or walkers, should be available.

Lifestyle factors

The environment is only one component of fall prevention. Even with the environment safe, older adults are at risk of falling. Fortunately, some lifestyle changes can be made to further reduce risks. This includes providing assistance and support for older adults when needed. For example, if mobility is limited, assistance should be provided to move throughout the home.

It is also recommended that older adults remain as active as possible. Older adults who are active are less likely to experience falls. Physicians can provide recommendations for what activities are safe.

Even with preventive measures, falls can happen. If your loved one is recovering from a fall and needs assistance or rehabilitation, the staff at Maplewood of Sauk Prairie would be happy to help.

For a senior, one of the most worrisome situations is a traumatic fall when no one is around.  What will they do?  Who will get help?  How will they recover?

Falls in the senior community are quite common and can pose a large problem.  Falls can cause injuries, immobility, loss of independence, and even death.

According to the US Center on Disease Control and Prevention:

  • One in three Americans, aged 65+, fall each year.
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall.
  • Every 19 minutes, a older adult dies from a fall.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.

Balance Problems Are a Common Cause of Falls in Older Adults

There are a variety of reasons that falls can occur in the elderly.  However, a common problem is balance problems.

Balance disorders, which are more common in adults, can lead to instability with standing or walking.  When the individual loses their balance without anything around to sufficiently stabilize them, the fall can occur.


Balance Therapy at Maplewood of Sauk Prairie

Fortunately, the physical therapy team at Maplewood of Sauk Prairie has the ability to evaluate and treat balance disorders.  Our team has the special knowledge of working with older adults and their balance problems.

balance therapy sauk city wiIn addition, we have specific equipment that we use to better treat those with balance issues.  We are the only therapy center in our area that now uses the OmniStand Dynamic Balancing System.

This equipment allows the therapists to work with patients in a safe and secure manner.  Once the patient is secured in the equipment, they are then able to work on their balance therapy through bending and performing exercises without the fear of ever falling.  This allows the patient to increase their strength, improve their flexibility, and regain their balance mechanisms within their bodies.

If you’d like to learn more about our balance programs within our physical therapy department, contact us at 608-643-3383.



For seniors, slipping and falling can be the cause of numerous injuries.  Commonly, a slip and fall can be the cause of broken bones, head injuries, sprains/strains or painful bruising.  Ideally, the best way to approach this issue is to try to prevent the falls in the fist place.

walking seniorsAlthough anyone, at any age, can slip and fall, it becomes more common as we get older.  Balance issues, dizziness, and weakness of muscles are quite common in seniors and this provides the right mix to increase the chances of falling and and potentially injuring themselves.

Often, the fall may cause injury, but it becomes the secondary issues due to the fall that rises up and becomes the major health problem.  Due to increased chances of weakening bone structure in the senior population, a fracture can certainly occur upon falling.  If the fracture causes reduced mobility, such as in a hip fracture, the individual can suffer from longer term effects such as chronic pain, reduced lung function and weakening of the musculature.

For these reasons, it is extremely important that steps are taken to try to limit the possibilities of falls. Whether you are a senior yourself or are the loved one of a senior, actions can be taken right now to help to prevent unnecessary falls.

During Winter – Watch For Ice

During the winter time, it is important to watch for ice buildup on steps and sidewalks.  Gutters that drip can often be the cause of ice buildup and should be repaired.  Sand or salt could also be applied.  Someone should be dedicated to making certain that all sidewalks are clear from snow and ice.

Proper Handrails

Properly installed handrails can make a considerable difference for those who have difficulty with balance.  By securing handrails at the proper height in the proper areas, this can prevent falls.

Use a Cane or Walker

For those that have difficulty walking, it is often necessary to use a cane or a walker.  These can be used for stabilizing the person while they are moving.  Some are resistant to using a walking aid, but it may be time to have a discussion if that is the case.

Bathroom Aids

Installing bathroom aids like grab bars in the shower area can be a great benefit.  These wet surfaces can be the perfect place for a slip and fall and any aid that can help to assist the person with standing or walking is a good thing.

Watch the Floors

Keep the floors clean of any objects that may cause a fall.  Straighten rugs and remove any objects that may get in the way and cause a loss of balance and a fall.

It is important to stay safe and prevent slips and falls at any age.  But, it is even more important to take steps to prevent those that are especially at risk for falling.




A common health problem that often flies under the radar is prediabetes.  This health issue can be the start of a cascade of health problems that left undiagnosed, can lead to the more serious problem of Type II diabetes.


To understand prediabetes, you must understand a little bit about how the body works.  You must especially understand how the pancreas controls your blood sugar levels.

For us to live, we all must be able to control the sugar levels within our blood.  Blood sugars are increased within our blood as we eat (especially by eating carohydrates) and are reduced as our cells utilize the sugars for energy.  However, a special hormone that is produced by the pancreas, called Insulin, is the major factor that helps us to control the amount of sugar that we have in our blood.  Like a thermostat controls the temperature in your home, Insulin controls the sugar in your blood.




According to the American Diabetes Association, this chart shows the requirements for normal, prediabetes and full blown Type II diabetes.


The Problems With Increased Blood Sugar Levels

So, why should we be concerned about elevated blood sugar levels?

The amount of blood sugar that flows through your blood can create dramatic changes within your body.  These changes can affect many systems within your body including, but not limited to, your vascular system, the neurological system, the endocrine system, and virtually every other system in your body.  The health effects are far reaching.

Unfortunately, there are not significant symptoms of prediabetes, so blood testing is the best choice.  This is why it is so important to regularly see your health care provider.

If not recognized or not treated, your prediabetes can turn into Type II diabetes, which can cause significant health problems.  This is why the recognition of early onset of elevation of your blood sugar levels is so important.

The Good News:  It’s Reversible

Here is the good news, prediabetes is reversible.  Typically, the best way to reverse your prediabetes is through proper diet and exercise, however, you should work with your health care provider to decide on the best treatment route for you.

The Risk Factors For Prediabetes

Here are the risk factors for prediabetes:

  • Being overweight
  • Being 45 years or older
  • Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically active less than 3 times a week
  • Ever having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds

Race and ethnicity are also a factor: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk.

Prediabetes is a serious, but reversible, health issue.  One of three Americans (86 million) have prediabetes.  Certainly the best way to deal with prediabetes or diabetes is to prevent it from ever occurring.  However, once acquired, prediabetes is reversible and you should immediately work with your own health provider.

Many have heard about congestive heart failure, but what exactly is it?

According to the American Heart Association, congestive heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is weakened and cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen.

Romantic Hot Heart Background

Romantic Hot Heart Background

Nearly 6 million Americans are living with heart failure, and over 900,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.  Heart failure is more likely to happen as we age, but anyone can develop heart failure, which is a serious, long-term (chronic) condition. But you can live a full and active life with the right medical treatment and the attention you pay to your lifestyle.

Warning Signs of Heart Failure

By themselves, any one sign of heart failure may not be cause for alarm. But if you have more than one of these symptoms, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any heart problems, report them to a healthcare professional and ask for an evaluation of your heart.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Consistent coughing or wheezing
  • Buildup of excess fluid in the body tissues
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite, nausea
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate

If you have any, or a variety, of these symptoms you should report it to your health provider.

Causes and Risks of Heart Failure

There are a variety of causes and risks for heart failure.Most people who develop heart failure have (or had) another heart condition first. The most common conditions that can lead to heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and previous heart attack. If you’ve been diagnosed with one of these conditions, it’s critical that you manage it carefully to help prevent the onset of heart failure.

Treatment Options and the Management of Heart Failure

If your doctor suspects that you have heart failure, specific tests may be ordered to confirm their diagnosis.  These may include further physical examination, blood tests, chest x-rays, EKG, exercise stress test, and cardiac catheterization.  These tests allow your doctor to better understand how your heart is functioning.

Once you are diagnosed with heart failure, your doctor will often put a treatment plan together that may include lifestyle changes, medications, the use of devices or surgical procedures.  You and your doctor can best decide on which is the right treatment plan for you.

Living With Heart Failure

Although it can be difficult to live with a chronic condition like heart failure, many people can and do learn to manage the symptoms and live full and enjoyable lives. People who typically report greater levels of improvement and emotional wellbeing are often the ones who are willing to build new habits around eating better, exercising as directed by their healthcare team, and tracking and managing their symptoms.


Improve your posture and you could improve your mood. Studies show sitting up with your spine straight and shoulders back can make you feel happier and more confident. Psychologists say this simple physical change lowers stress hormones and increases happiness hormones, which can cue the brain to switch to a more positive and poised state of mind.

Life is ironic. A brilliant man, who dedicated his life to improving the health of humans, was claimed by Alzheimers in the prime of his career.
Larry Whitesell grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Delaware College with a degree in animal husbandry. He married, Donna Keckler. Together, these opposites completed each other in a very complementary way. They had two daughters and now have two beautiful granddaughters. Larry Whitesell & Donna May 14 2015

In 1983, Larry uprooted his family and moved from Hershey Pennsylvania where he dedicated 15 years of his life doing cardiology research at the Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania. As a leader in his field, he was noticed by the University of Wisconsin’s head of cardiology and was offered a ground breaking position at UW Wisconsin where he started a program in Cardiology Research.

As Larry was blazing a trail utilizing gene therapy in cardiac research, he noticed some memory issues. In 2010, he retired early and was diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s. When Larry reached the stage where his family was unable to care for him, he came to Maplewood of Sauk Prairie to receive skilled care and physical therapy.

Maplewood has adopted the “Music in Memory” program where people with dementia and Alzheimer’s listen to favorite songs from the early adult years. This program has been known to provide joy and bring a person back to themselves while the music is being played. Those listening to music have experienced calming behaviors and may have the ability to respond in the present for a while after a listening session. Larry is one of the success stories associated with “Music in Memory”. As a result, he is experiencing more connections to his surrounding, making more eye and verbal contact.

Larry made a difference in many people’s life by doing cutting edge research. He has plans to continue contributing to society after he passes. He will be donating his brain for research in the hopes that scientists can pinpoint the gene that causes Alzheimer’s and a cure will be found.Larry Whitesell & Donna smiles 05-14-2015

Maplewood Sauk Prairie Offers Tips to Prolong A Senior’s Ability to Live at Home.

There are a variety of things to incorporate into a person’s daily living that increases safety and may prolong the ability for a senior to live in his/her home.
1. Bathroom Safety
• Utilize a shower seat.
• Have a cordless phone near a tub or shower, in case of an emergency.
• A walk-in shower or tub eliminates the need to step over a barrier which increases the risk of falling.
• Use a taller toilet seat. It makes it easier to get up or down.
• Install grab bars as an assistive aid and to help with stability.
2. Incorporate “Life Alert” or some monitoring agency. There may be a time when you can’t get to the phone because you fallen and by pushing a button on an assistive device the agency is notified that you need help.
3. Phone
• Multiple cordless phones around the house makes accessibility easier.
• Carry a cell phone on your person at all times.
• Use phones with large buttons for better visibility.
4. Rugs are tripping hazards
• Remove them or secure rugs in place with tape, tacks or non-skid backs.
5. Bright accessible lighting.
• Install automatic safety-motion lights for both the inside and outside of the home.
• Make sure the pathway to light switches is easily assessed.
6. Stairs
• Use non-skid strips for outside steps and porches.
• Make sure handrails or banisters are securely tightened for support.
• Remove runners on stairs. They are a tripping hazard.
• Indoor wooden stairs should have non-skid strips installed on them.
• Use and/or install a chair lift.
• Have a ramp for those who use a walker or wheelchair.
7. Outdoor
• Trim trees that cover walk ways.
• Install adequate lighting.
• Fix broken/cracked pavement or sidewalks
• Utilize non-skid materials on decks. It is a lot safer in wet weather.
• Fix broken or loose boards on decks.
• Secure hand and deck rails.
8. Bedroom
• Utilize bedrails to eliminate the possibility of falling out of bed.
• Have a phone next to the bed with emergency numbers programed or next to it.
• Proper bed height makes it easier to get into and out of bed.
• A firm mattress makes it easier to move on and off the bed.
• Have a light next to the bed.
• Utilize a night light.
9. Fire Safety
• Utilize smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If possible, have the smoke detector hooked up so it is part of a monitoring alarm system that will automatically contact the fire department.
• Have fire extinguishers accessible. Place them in rooms that are high traffic areas such as bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and living room.

10. Power Outages
• A cell phone allows a person to communicate regardless if the power is out.
• Have a flashlight and batteries within easy reach.

Maplewood Health & Rehab Center of Sauk Prairie Encourages Safe Steering Wheel Hand Placement.

Maplewood partners with AARP and hosts 4 driving classes a year to help seniors lower their insurance and retain or become better drivers.  There is no way your license will be revoked by taking these classes.  Rather, the goal is to keep you driving longer.

September 11th from 8:00-noon, “CarFit” is offered.  This event has you bring your car to Maplewood and adjustments are made to individualize the fit of your car to your body.  It essentially makes it easier and more comfortable for you to see and drive.

November 11th from 8:00 – noon, a classroom instruction called Driver’s Safety is offered.  It reviews driving changes such as steering wheel hand placement of “9 and 3” vs. “8 and 2” – which is what was taught prior to the late 80’s.

Progressive Insurance had a very helpful article about position grip on the steering wheel.

“Drive Safe Today Day” to highlight practical, sometimes counter-intuitive, safe driving strategies

In the deep recesses of my brain, I have just a few vague memories of taking driver’s ed back in the late 80s. Yet, certain things have always stuck with me—like the “10 o’clock and 2 o’clock” rule for hands on the steering wheel. I think that little gem and its helpful mnemonic are habitual for many of us.

But, as with many things in life, it’s a good idea to periodically reflect on what you’re doing, ask if there’s a better way, and commit to it. Times and technology do change, even if habits are hard to break.

Join us for Drive Safe Today Day

On September 3, Drive Safe Today Day will help us all break out of some of our bad driving habits. Together, we (Progressive and you … if you’re up to it) will pledge to drive a little safer. We’ll offer up some tips—easy things you can do to break out of some of the less-than-ideal driving habits that (let’s face it) we all have. And, we’ll work together to make driving a little safer … at least for a day.

Some of those habits will be obvious (like, put down the phone); others, less so.

And, that brings us to our first tip: “9 and 3” is the new “10 and 2.”

An engineering marvel

Most of us probably take airbags for granted, but it was only in 1998 that the federal government made them mandatory in passenger cars. According to a fact sheet published by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2013, frontal airbags have saved an average of 2,336 lives annually between 2008 and 2012. They’re an engineering marvel that have made a real difference in safety on the road.

But, driving a car with a steering-wheel airbag does require updating an old-school habit. If you’re still using the “10 o’clock and 2 o’clock” position, it’s time to change.

Slide those hands down the wheel a bit

NHTSA now recommends moving the hands down the wheel to the “9 o’clock and 3 o’clock” position. Here’s why.

When your airbag is triggered, super-hot nitrogen gas fills the bag, forcing open the plastic cover on your steering wheel. The bag then expands toward you at 150-250 mph. The higher your hands are on the wheel, the more likely they are to be over that plastic cover—and the more likely they are to be injured when it blows open.

A driver otherwise protected by the airbag can suffer a broken nose or concussion caused by the hand being blasted into the face, finger or hand amputation, fracture, or a rather gruesome and very graphically-named injury called “de-gloving.”

9 and 3 strikes a reasonable balance between driving safety (hands in a good position to control the car), and injury avoidance if the airbag goes off (hands out of the way of the cover).

So, 9 and 3 it is.

(And, needless to say, one arm on the steering wheel & other leaning on an arm also referred to “Detroit Leaning” is out as well.)