Lessons Learned: How an Active Senior Reduced Her Risk of Falling

Mary Green

By any measure, Cora Lalli is extraordinarily healthy.

The 92-year-old Jacksonville, Florida resident takes no daily medications beyond vitamin supplements and has none of the chronic medical issues often found in those in of a comparable age. She lives in her own home (with an adult daughter and two beloved dachshunds) in an active adult community, leads a robust social life and volunteers every other week through her church, visiting residents of a local skilled nursing home.

There is one way, however, in which she fits the profile of many seniors – in recent years, she has experienced fall-related injuries. Three times, in fact. And while the episodes were non-life-threatening, those experiences have given her due pause, leading to some necessary lifestyle and environmental changes to increase her odds of avoiding any future incidents.

Cora’s first fall happened when she woke up late one night to take her dog, Murry, outside to do his “business.” She failed to turn any lights on and subsequently tripped over a heavy coffee table, taking a tumble that broke three ribs, punctured a lung, and landed her in the hospital for one week and a rehab facility for four weeks. Several years later, while at a local resort celebrating her then-88-year-old brother’s birthday with family, she tripped over a parking space abutment, dislocating and breaking her right shoulder, which required surgery and another week at a rehab facility.

The most recent fall episode – in which her sneaker sole “stuck” to the floor of the nursing home where she was visiting residents – resulted in a severely broken right wrist, which is still healing months later and for which she is receiving steroid injections.

As the saying goes, the third time’s the charm.

“After I broke my wrist, it really took a toll on me,” Cora says. “Routine tasks that I normally would have been able to do without a thought were next-to-impossible. I realized that I had to make some serious changes, otherwise this was going to happen again, and the outcome might be far, far worse.”

Finally taking seriously the recommendations previously provided by medical caregivers, she began exercising twice daily, following the illustrated instructions furnished by a physical therapist. The routine focuses on enhancing balancing skills as well as spatial awareness techniques - taking the necessary time to organize knowledge of objects in a given space in relation to oneself and moving thoughtfully, rather than focusing on an in-the-moment urge to “get up and go,” Cora notes.

These days, acting purposefully is an essential part of Cora’s daily life.

When getting out of bed in the morning, she takes time to sit up for several minutes and center her body before attempting to move off the bed. She’s relocated several area rugs in her home away from her routine walking path and has added night lights in key areas throughout the home. She’s also traded in her previous sneakers for a pair with soles that she feels “safer” in. And she always wears hospital-issued, non-slip, anti-skid grip socks while at home. Although she’s yet to take up suggestions that she use a walker, it’s something she’ll consider if she feels it’s necessary to avoid another fall.

“What I finally had to admit to myself after this latest injury is how it slowed me down in my social life, and that I had been ignoring the things I should be doing to avoid falls because I didn’t want to accept changes in my body and risk losing my independence,” Cora says.

“I’m grateful for having my home and not being confined to a living situation where it would be a challenge to continue the kind of lifestyle I still enjoy,” she adds. “Sometimes I still feel scared, but I’ve accepted that this a new way of life, and I know what needs to be done to ensure my remaining years are the healthiest they can be.”