Hair salon takes action to trim number of falls

Jul. 26, 2013 @ 06:29 PM

Donna Hooker has experienced a bad fall, so she's personally grateful for the prevention and awareness campaign that public health experts from UNC-Chapel Hill are putting on at her salon right now.

"I've seen my mother fall ... and I've fallen myself, before I got my knee surgery," said Hooker, the owner of Donna's Hair Salon, located at the corner of Gulf Street and Pearl Street near downtown Sanford. "I'll be walking and feel a little trip or something, so this is good to learn more about dealing with stuff like that and preventing it."

Hooker said she jumped at the chance to give her clients — many of whom she said are middle-aged or older — access to the knowledge brought by the team from UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health, which was ranked the second best public health school in the world last year by the U.S. News & World Report. The team will be at Donna's Salon offering non-invasive medical check-ups and physical tests, which are free to any adult client, today and next Friday and Saturday.

"A lot of people don't have insurance, so it's nice to give them some free exams and things," Hooker said.

Meg Pomerantz, project director at the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health, is one of the people involved in the program. She said falls are far more prevalent — and dangerous — than most people realize.

"In North Carolina, every 18 seconds, someone goes to the emergency room because of a fall," Pomerantz said. "And it's the number-one (cause of) injury in every age group except 15- to 34-year-olds."

However, she said, many people fall due to preventable causes — dangerous situations at home or not getting enough exercise, for example.

"People think it's just something that comes with old age," Pomerantz said. "But it doesn't have to."

The group has a bulletin board about preventing falls set up for people to study when they're not getting their hair done or going through the tests, which consist of blood pressure checks and basic measurements, as well as tests of balance, leg strength, grip strength and agility. Some of the things they recommend people do to decrease their chances of falling include:

* Get their vision checked.

* Exercise regularly, even if it's just walking.

* Have a doctor review their medicine to make sure they're not taking too many pills that make them drowsy.

* Clear walkways and remove small, slippery rugs from the home.

* Install grip bars in the shower or near the toilet.

* Put a non-slip mat in the shower or tub.

* Make sure stairs have sturdy handrails.

* Always have good lighting inside their homes.

After people go through the testing, which takes five to 10 minutes, the public health team will let them know if they're above average, average or below average for each category. If anything concerns them, they'll let people know and encourage them to see a doctor or do some of the things on the list above to decrease their risk.

Ironically, said Phil Hanson, a team member and master's degree student at the public health school, studies show that people who are scared of falling are actually more likely to fall. He said part of that finding can be attributed to the fact that they know their bodies and thus know their weaknesses. But also, he said, it's psychological.

These studies — the Sanford program is a pilot program, and if it goes well, the group could get a grant to expand it to seven local counties next year — are intended to help people overcome those fears and learn more about how to improve their health and stability.

"If they believe they're at risk, they're less likely to exercise or go to the gym because they're worried about falling," Hanson said. "That's an interesting thing about falls — that if you're worried about it, you're more likely to fall."

He added that even for people who are unlikely to suffer a bad fall, this study will hopefully raise awareness by telling them how to avoid becoming at-risk in the future and showing them what others go through.

"Many people, if they're not at risk at the moment, they know someone who is," he said. "... Hopefully we're educating more people than just who we talk to."