Older Americans Month 2014: Safe Today, Healthy Tomorrow

Older adults have made countless contributions and sacrifices to ensure a better life for future generations. Since 1963, communities across the country have shown their gratitude by celebrating Older Americans Month each May. This celebration recognizes older Americans for their contributions and demonstrates our nation’s commitment to helping them stay healthy and active, says Cindy Thompson, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach family life/family finance program specialist.
This year’s theme for Older Americans Month is “Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow.” The theme focuses on injury prevention and safety to encourage older adults to protect themselves and remain active and independent for as long as possible.
Unintentional injuries to this population result in at least 6 million medically treated injuries and more than 30,000 deaths every year. With an emphasis on safety during Older Americans Month, Thompson encourages older adults to learn about the variety of ways they can avoid the leading causes of injury.
Thompson suggests that older adults talk to their healthcare provider.
“Together figure out which physical activities are appropriate for your age and ability. Have your vision checked regularly. Manage medications and be aware of how they interact with other drugs, foods and alcohol. Use a scheduler box to be sure you are taking the medications as prescribed,” she said.
Prevention is the key to avoiding falls, a leading cause of injury, Thompson continued. Start by choosing shoes with non-slip soles. Use a walking aid if needed for balance or stability. Install handrails and grab bars in bathrooms, around stairs and anywhere they could be helpful. Assess lighting, inside and outside, and add it where needed. Be sure lighting is adequate on often used walkways. Nightlights are a good idea between the bedroom and bathroom.
Fires and burns are another concern, Thompson said. Consider having anti-scald devices installed on sinks, tubs and showers, and set the water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Place smoke alarms in bedrooms and the kitchen.
Thompson also reminds older adults to use caution when cooking. Wear snug or short sleeved clothing and use good quality oven mitts. She also suggests people not smoke in their homes, especially if oxygen therapy is used.
One more issue to address is driving, Thompson said.
“Daytime driving in good weather conditions is the best plan. Figure out the safest routes and those that are familiar. Keep focused on the road and eliminate any distractions in the car. Be aware if any medications you are taking impact your ability to drive. And be responsible. This means knowing when it is time to limit or stop driving,” Thompson said.
Older adults are at a much higher risk of unintentional injury and even death than the rest of the population, Thompson said. “With a focus on safety during Older Americans Month, we can all use this opportunity to raise awareness about this critical issue. By taking control of their safety, older Americans can live longer, healthier lives.”

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