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Learning More About Your Health From A Local Level

Written by  Rich Ellis, Christy Rippel

Through its newest column Healthy Observations, OurHealth Roanoke & New River Valleys magazine partners with area physicians and health organizations to raise awareness about conditions and topics tied to specific national health recognition days, weeks and months during the year.  

Most of us are familiar with national heath observances awareness campaigns like American Heart Month, National Stroke Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness. But did you know the calendar is full of special days, weeks and months that raise awareness for a variety of important health issues and conditions?

In much the same way national health observances like these raise awareness about specific health conditions on a national level, our Healthy Observations column’s purpose is to bring a similar level of awareness to readers at the local level. By increasing knowledge and awareness about specific health concerns, dispelling misconceptions, and sharing new technologies through expertise provided by local physicians and providers, our goal is to help readers prevent these health conditions from occurring, and/or give readers insight on where they can turn to locally to seek diagnosis and treatment if they’re already experiencing symptoms.

Interim Healthcare helps reduce the rise in falls among seniors

Falling is the third leading cause of unintentional-injury-related death over all age groups, but it's the #1 cause of death for those 65 and older. But with the right type of safeguard and assistance from these rates can be reduced – and even eliminated.

Falls can cause injuries for a person of any age—but for seniors, they can be catastrophic. “Falls are one of the biggest things that send people back to the hospital,” says Cheryl Rakes, PT, a physical therapist and Director of Rehabilitation for Interim Healthcare in Roanoke. “It often sends them in the wrong direction, one from which they often don’t recover well.”

Other than the obvious fall injuries, which might include fractures or head trauma, lasting complications can result, says Rakes. “Complications that arise from a fall are often worse than the fall itself.” The lack of mobility from the injury starts a downward spiral—patients don’t eat and drink as well, become weaker and lose balance, and are susceptible to pneumonia and other illnesses.

While Rakes and her team of therapists at Interim have helped innumerable patients rehabilitate after a fall, the best course of action recommended is to take preventative measures. Simple steps such as keeping pathways clear of clutter and making sure rooms have adequate lighting are just a few recommendations she offers our readers to help keep our seniors safe and stable at home.

Survey the Entrance to the Home

“On a home therapy visit, the first thing we look at is the entrance and how the patient gets from the car or transportation into the house,” says Rakes. “Sometimes the shortest distance to travel is not the safest distance.” Meaning, maybe the front door is closer, but requires walking over grass or a gravel driveway, while the path to the back door is concrete—more stable for walking.

In that case, Rakes works with the patient on his or her functional endurance so that the walk to the back door is possible without fatigue. She says a combination of weight training and walking (under the guidance of a therapist) can accomplish this goal.

To prevent a fall on the way into the house, look for a path on solid terrain, consider landscape lighting to illuminate any steps or tricky areas, and be sure that you or your loved one are strong and balanced enough to go it alone. If not, consider physical therapy to increase strength and balance.

Find Potential Trip Hazards Inside the Home

That throw rug might be a home décor statement, but it’s a trip hazard. “Get the throw rugs off the floor,” advises Rakes, along with anything else that blocks pathways needed for travel. In home visits, Rakes says her company’s therapists will often make suggestions and/or move items themselves to lessen the risk of a fall. “Sometimes it’s something as easy as moving a lamp to a different place so the lighting is better,” Rakes says.

Clutter is the enemy—removing anything that doesn’t have to be on the floor or in the way allows better movement, especially for those trying to get around with a walker or cane. All areas should be well-lit, especially at night. Consider night lights for hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens or any areas that might be visited in the middle of the night.

Guide Someone the Right Way up the Stairs or into a Seat

There is a right way to assist someone who is walking, sitting down or rising from a seat that will help prevent them from falling. “We teach family members and caregivers what we call ‘guarding techniques’, which is how to stand and where to stand,” says Rakes.

When helping, it’s natural to reach for the hand, but you should balance at the waist or belt area at the person’s back—you’ll have a better hold – and can sense when the person is starting to lose balance and fall. If you are only grasping the hand, you might injure him or her by yanking on the arm while they are already starting to fall down. “If you have your hand at the right place you can prevent them from coming too far off their base of support and you can correct them before they fall,” Rakes notes.

When navigating stairs, the helper should stand at the down side of the stairs, even if the person you are assisting is going up. Transfers – going from sitting to standing and vice versa – are the cause of a lot of falls, Rakes says, often because the person has forgotten their assistance device (cane or walker), or is still too far away from the seat when they try to sit down. Interim Healthcare physical therapists work on these transitions with patients, and also help caregivers with helpful verbal cues and reminders – particularly necessary for those with dementia.

Falls aren’t a necessary part of aging and can be successfully prevented, starting with staying active. Staying active promotes balance, coordination and strength at any age and can be an insurance plan against falls. If a person remains active and ensures that the home environment is safe and free of hazards, the risk of a fall is drastically reduced. If balance and strength become compromised, a physical therapist can help recover strength, balance—and confidence.

For more information about fall prevention safety, visit or scan the QR code.

Helpful Tips to Reduce the Risk of Falling in Seniors

General Safety

  • When moving from lying down to standing, sit up first and stay sitting a moment or two. Then stand up slowly and stand a few seconds before trying to walk.
  • When you first wake up, sit on the edge of the bed and make sure you are not dizzy before you get out of bed.
  • Use a cane or walker if you are unsteady. Promptly replace worn rubber tips of these devices.
  • Be careful around pets. They can get in front of your feet or jump on you.
  • Eat breakfast every morning. Skipping a meal could make you dizzy.
  • Wear clothes that fit properly. You can trip on a coat, pair of pants or bathrobe that is too long.
  • Close cabinet drawers so you won't stumble over them.
  • If you are not close to the telephone when it rings, don't rush to it. Fast, sudden moves could throw you off balance.
  • Make sure you have access to a telephone that you can reach to call for help if you fall. Consider carrying a portable phone.


  • Never grab a towel rack, shampoo holder or soap tray for support in the shower. These will not hold a person's weight.
  • Let the soap suds go down the drain before you move around in the shower. Do not turn suddenly.
  • If you are prone to falling, use a shower chair and a handheld shower attachment.
  • Clean up puddles of water immediately.
  • Do not lock the bathroom door. That will delay help in reaching you.
  • Arrange clothes in your closet so they are easy to reach.
  • Replace satiny sheets and comforters with products made of nonslippery material, i.e., cotton, wool.


  • Never carry any package that will obstruct your view of the next step.
  • Keep at least one hand on the handrail.


  • Wear glasses if you need them, but remove reading glasses before you walk.
  • Have your eyes checked regularly. Do not put off getting new glasses.
  • Use 100-watt bulbs, as light takes longer to reach the back of your eye where you sense color motion. Note: Only use higher watt bulbs if they do not exceed the warning on your lamps or fixtures to avoid a fire hazard.
  • Keep flashlights handy in event of a power outage.

Medication Side Effects

  • Feeling weak or dizzy can be a possible side effect of many medications and can increase the risk of falls. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about side effects caused by your medications, and read the information about side effects that comes with each of your prescriptions.

Sensible Shoes

  • Have your feet measured each time you buy shoes since your size can change.
  • Buy properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles.
  • Avoid shoes with extra-thick soles.
  • Choose lace-up shoes instead of slip-ons, and keep the laces tied.
  • Select footwear with fabric fasteners if you have trouble tying laces.
  • Use a long-handled shoehorn if you have trouble putting on shoes.
  • Shop in the men's department if you're a woman who can't find wide enough shoes.
  • Always keep your toenails well trimmed. 


Cataracts – What Are They?

Richard Johnson, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist with LewisGale Physicians in Salem and explains the meaning behind this common medical condition that nearly everyone will experience later in life.

“A cataract is a clouding of the natural, intraocular (IOL) crystalline lens that focuses the light entering the eye onto the retina,” Dr. Johnson explains. “This cloudiness can cause a decrease in vision and may lead to eventual blindness if left untreated. Cataracts often develop slowly and painlessly, so vision and lifestyle can be affected without a person realizing it. Worldwide, cataracts are the number one cause of preventable blindness, and while there is no medical treatment to prevent their development or progression, cataract surgery has an overall success rate of 97 percent or higher when performed in appropriate settings.”

Modern cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and implanting a clear, intraocular lens, and is one of the most effective, most common procedures performed in medicine with three million Americans electing to have cataract surgery annually.

Cataract Symptoms and When They Occur

According to Dr. Johnson, the following symptoms could indicate the presence of cataracts, and patients experiencing these symptoms should seek an evaluation and opinion from a medical professional.

  • Blurred vision (distance vision or near vision may be affected, one more so than the other)
  • Glare (halos or streaks around lights, difficulty seeing in the presence of bright lights)
  • Difficulty seeing in low-light situations (including poor night vision)
  • Loss of contrast sensitivity
  • Loss of ability to discern colors
  • Increasing near-sightedness or a change in refractive status

People tend to get cataracts in their 60s and 70s, Dr. Johnson adds, and most people in that age bracket, even if they’re not experiencing symptoms, probably have cataracts. Nearly everyone who lives long enough will develop them – some sooner than others as lifestyle factors, such as smoking, can cause cataracts to develop earlier.

Advancements in Cataract Surgery and How the Procedure is Performed

True laser surgery is now available, in addition to the traditional ultrasound method, to remove cataracts. The main difference between the two is that laser uses light waves to soften the cataract so that its contents can be removed more easily. True laser surgery is more expensive and usually not covered by insurance, while traditional ultrasound treatment does yield similar long-term results, albeit with the potential for increased swelling after surgery.

During surgery to remove cataracts, other additional treatment options can also be performed, such as correcting the dominant eye for distance and the non-dominant eye for closer vision, potentially eliminating the need for the patient to wear glasses. Additionally, toric lenses can be used to correct astigmatism, multifocal lenses can correct distance and near vision in the right candidate, and accommodative lenses can correct distance and intermediate or computer distance vision.

Cataract surgery takes about 10 to 15 minutes per eye, with patients arriving approximately one and a half hours before surgery to be prepped for the operation. After surgery, patients should have someone available to drive them home, and they can resume normal activities the following day. Cataract surgery is not usually performed on both eyes during the same visit, unless the patient has a medical condition that requires both eyes be treated simultaneously.

Debunking Myths about Cataract Surgery

Older adults may recall their parents or grandparents going through a much more involved surgical procedure to treat cataracts, leaving a stigma that resonates with many today. Back then, patients waited until their vision was nearly totally obscured by a cloudy lens, or ‘ripe’, as it was referred to, before having involved surgery. They were then hospitalized for 10 days or more with their heads immobile with sandbags while their eyes healed before being sent home with Coke-bottle spectacles that restored their sight but greatly enlarged and distorted visual images.

“As a cataract progresses, more of the lens becomes cloudy. When the entire lens is brown, the cataract is called ‘ripe’ or ‘mature’ and causes severe vision problems. Delaying surgery until cataracts are ripe or mature is neither recommended nor needed, as patients today can be diagnosed and treated well before a cataract reaches that stage.”

With so many advancements in medical technology, Dr. Johnson says it’s important for patients to speak with their doctors and share any concerns they have, especially if they aren’t certain about the latest diagnosis and treatment options.

“It’s disconcerting to know some people still may avoid having a procedure that can help improve their health simply because they are misinformed or unaware,” explains Dr. Johnson. “Maintaining regularly check ups with your doctor and asking questions is a good starting point for anyone who has concerns.”



Fireworks Safety Month
Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month
Cataract Awareness Month
Men’s Health Month
Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month
National Aphasia Awareness Month
National Congenital Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month
National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month
National Safety Month
National Scleroderma Awareness Month
National Cancer Survivors Day ® 6/4
Men’s Health Week 6/12 – 6/18
National Lightning Safety Awareness Week 6/18 – 6/24
World Sickle Cell Day 6/19
National HIV Testing Day 6/27
National PTSD Awareness Day 6/27


Cord Blood Awareness Month
International Group B Strep Awareness Month
Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month
National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month
UV Safety Month
World Hepatitis Day 7/28