Program aims to prevent falls for seniors

For millions of seniors, falling is a huge health issue. It can threaten a person's independence and even their lives.
But there are ways to prevent falls from happening.

It takes 16 seconds for 82-year-old Reva Merlin to get up and walk 12 feet. She knows, because it's part of an assessment to determine her risk for falls.

A few years ago, she was tossing a box and lost her balance. "I just threw it the wrong way and it made me twist and I fell, " said Merlin.

Every year, a third of seniors over the age of 65 fall. For some, it can be fatal. One of the worst injuries is a hip fracture.

Dr. Sonja Rosen, Associate Medical Director of the Geriatics Care Program at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Group, performs assessments for seniors.

"If a person fractures their hip, they actually have a 50 percent chance of dying the first year after the fracture," said Rosen.

It's the reason why the Cedar-Sinai Medical Group is offering increased access to testing to evaluate fall risk.

Dr. Rosen said falling is not a normal part of aging and many can be prevented.

Certain medications can make seniors more prone to falls. "Ativan or Xanax or Valium is really dangerous in older people," said Rosen.

The comprehensive evaluation doesn't stop at the doctor's office. The geriatrician may order a home health and safety visit with a occupational therapist. "To make sure that rugs aren't loose on the floor and that there isn't a lot of clutter," said Rosen.

Dr. Rosen also recommends everyone exercise about 45 minutes a day to strengthen muscles and improve balance

Reva's prescription? A caregiver a few hours each week, a massage to help with pain, physical therapy and a cane.

"No one ever knows when they're going to fall so having an assistive walking device to hold on to will help prevent that fall from happening," said Rosen.

With all this help, Merlin said she feels more confident.

"I'm given the opportunity to have these things to make me feel better," she said.

Dr. Rosen said comprehensive geriatric evaluations at Cedars-Sinai are open to anyone with medicare.

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