Column: Take steps toward healthy aging

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Depressing news: Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes an older person dies because of a fall, according to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-five percent of all Americans who are 65 or older take a fall every year.

Falls cause more “runs” by medics to retirement communities than any other issue. When a resident falls, staff can make them comfortable but cannot help them up. That’s why medics are called – to evaluate the damage.

Recently, a friend who was hosting a luncheon at her home fell down some steps and fractured a vertebrae in her neck. The week before, a resident fell in her apartment, hit her head and died a few hours later. Two other residents fell – one in the shower and another walking from the dining room. Another friend has fallen twice because of her dog — first tripping over the rug to let the dog out, then getting caught up in the leash. Older people and pets are often a disaster.

Why? What is happening? Researchers at Purdue University are studying balance and movement of older people with the goal of creating data-driven interventions that cause falls.

As I have aged, I have learned to always hold a handrail, to not rush and to accept an arm when offered. Being aware that I’m not lifting my feet enough while walking or climbing steps helps me to keep from falling.

Our aging population has multiple problems, but some of them can be managed with more efforts from doctors and therapists. Geriatrics is a new field of study because of people living longer than ever before. Aging patients may have multiple chronic illnesses requiring multiple doctors and multiple medications while previously they may have died at an early age from one chronic illness.

It is noticeable that residents are waiting until they are much older to move into retirement communities than just 10 years ago. When they do finally make the move from their own home to community living, they often have a mental or physical problem.

Aging at home is an option but overlooks the socialization and opportunities for therapy and exercise that are gained by living in a retirement community.

We are all aging from the day we are born. Being aware that we are in control of the lifelong process is the first step in healthful aging. Then, using every opportunity to be informed and educated on how to use our choices is the next step. But none of this makes a difference in our mental and physical condition at age 80 if we haven’t taken action.

Set a mental goal of how you want to look and feel in the final quarter of your life. For many people, those are years after retirement. It’s never too late to make every day a gift to yourself.

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