Dr. J. Kenneth Brubaker

About the Author – This “Health Update” was written by J. Kenneth Brubaker, M.D., C.M.D., medical director at Masonic Village at Elizabethtown.

One of my biggest challenges as I entered my mid-sixties was recognizing the physiological changes that have been occurring to my body. Something as simple as getting out of my car takes more effort than before. Compounding the loss of muscle mass and strength is the fact that I have not been exercising at the same intensity I had been while in my younger years.

If one has declining muscle mass, decreased nerve function and declining vision, it is easy to understand why falls increase with aging.

Falls are one of the most common events that reduce the independence of older adults. Causes of falls are due to many factors in addition to the common slow declines associated with aging.

We should not forget the importance of maintaining a safe environment. Cluttered walk spaces, inadequate lighting, slippery flooring, lack of handrails and grab bars, out-of-reach cabinets and storage spaces, unsecured electrical cords and unfamiliar environments are all common causes associated with falls. Having adequate lighting inside and outside of the house is very important for anyone who is in their mid-60s or older. Older adults need three times the light to distinguish objects as younger adults. It is important to use night lights in the bathroom, bedroom and hallways. Wet surfaces are especially associated with increased falls; therefore, avoid walking on slippery surfaces and use nonskid stockings, rugs and tub mats. Avoid having electrical cords running across your rooms and tape down telephone cords or use cordless phones. Raised chairs are more functional for older adults to stand up without falling. Remove throw rugs and avoid thick carpets.

Using Equipment to be Safe

Canes, and especially walkers, prevent many falls among those who are unsteady while standing or walking. The benefit of canes and walkers is as important as wearing a seat belt while riding in a car. Any time a fall is prevented, one prevents the potential need for hospitalization, nursing home care and unexpected death.

Daily exercise is extremely important. One of the most beneficial consults you can make is with a physical therapist. A physical therapist is able to assess your gait and recommend exercises to strengthen your leg muscles, as well as give you other exercises that will improve balance. I joined the Masonic Wellness Center at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, and after several months, I could already tell a difference in my balance and the strength of my leg muscles. I have noticed getting out of a car is much easier since the exercise specialist gave me a number of lower extremity exercises that include stretching and resistive activities.

If you are interested in maintaining the highest quality of life possible, remember safety is extremely important to all of us as we age. Of all the safety interventions, good nutrition and a regular exercise program are the cornerstones in the prevention of falls.