Published on January 20, 2016

Small Things Make Big Difference In Trauma Prevention

I am a general surgeon with an interest in trauma, trying to find ways to prevent injuries. If it sounds like I'm trying to put myself out of business, that's because I am. Any trauma surgeon who cares about their patients wants to see trauma totally eliminated, because it can have life-changing effects.

Modern medicine has taken a whole new approach by focusing on prevention. We have screenings for numerous types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Trauma is no different than these diseases, because we can take steps to prevent it from happening. Small actions, like wearing your seat belt or making sure your airbags work, can make a big difference.

Will we ever completely eliminate trauma? No, of course not. But if we can educate and engage people on ways to stay safe, we can reduce the number of major injuries that demand emergency attention.

Living With Balance

One of the most at-risk populations for trauma is the elderly. This happens for two reasons:

  • Medical problems: As we age, the systems of our bodies begin to deteriorate. Sometimes, medical issues like osteoporosis or trouble with balance are what cause falls in the elderly.
  • Medications: Prescription drugs are used to treat many of the medical issues that elderly individuals experience. Unfortunately, medications come with side effects, and those side effects or interactions between multiple medications can cause falls.

Falls are particularly devastating because a fall that a healthy younger person could shrug off can result in an older individual needing long-term or nursing home care, or even be deadly.

So what can older individuals and their loved ones do to help prevent falls?

  • Watch your step: Rugs, furniture or other items that can cause a fall should be moved out of the way or removed entirely. Remember to think like someone who may not be as agile or who has difficulty getting around.
  • Check your meds: It's a good idea to discuss medications with your primary care provider, especially if you are prescribed anything new. This can help prevent or reduce the severity of side effects and drug interactions. Be sure to tell your doctor about any over-the-counter products you also use, including vitamins, supplements and even what your diet involves. These can all have an impact on how effective your medications are and the side effects they cause.
  • Stay active: Your mobility is truly something you use or you lose. Keeping active is an important part of maintaining your ability to live life the way you want.

Rider Beware

A common fixture throughout Kentucky life is the all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Unfortunately, improper use of these vehicles is also a common cause of traumatic injury, especially in children.

ATVs have a lot of power and a high center of balance. This makes them great for riding over rough terrain and obstacles, but it also makes them dangerous for inexperienced and immature riders, or for those who lack the physical strength to handle them properly. Kentucky law sets out ATV age restrictions and it's important to follow them:

  • Riders younger than 16 are required to wear a helmet at all times while operating an ATV and must be supervised by an adult
  • Riders younger than 16 are not to use ATVs with an engine size of more than 90cc
  • Riders younger than 12 are not to use ATVs with an engine size of more than 70cc

Adults riding ATVs should also use caution. A car isn't a toy, and an ATV should be treated with the same caution and respect. If you have questions about how to properly and safely handle an ATV or the laws associated with using them, I highly encourage you to contact the Kentucky State Police. Post 16 in Henderson is the closest and can be reached by calling 270-826-3312. They have some very useful information and resources to help keep riders of any age safe.

Drive Safe

Impaired driving is one of the greatest risk factors for the trauma cases that I see, and I encounter it all too often. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs and alcohol are potentially dangerous when mixed with driving because they can slow down the functions of the brain and nervous system, impair coordination and interfere with judgment. All of these factors make for a lethal cocktail when behind the wheel.

Preventing drunk driving is a priority for me, and that's why I regularly participate in "Ghost Out" programs, where we simulate the aftermath of drunk-driving crashes for high school students throughout the area. Talking to young people, educating them about the reality and dangers of driving impaired, is one of the best things I feel I can do to prevent trauma.

For adults, the message is the same: Please don't operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or any drug that might interfere with driving. Call a friend, call a cab, plan ahead or get a designated driver. It's not worth the risk of putting your life and the lives of others in danger.

Dr. Anthony Decker is a general surgeon with Owensboro Health Medical Group. For more information or to request an appointment at Owensboro Health Medical Group - Surgical Specialists, call 270-683-3720.

*This article was originally published on January 20, 2016 in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering and the only hospital in the world to be designated a Signature Sanctuary by Audubon International, Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital, the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprising over 180 providers in 25 locations, a certified medical fitness facility, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center. Owensboro Health has been recognized for outstanding care, safety and clinical excellence by The Joint Commission, U.S. News & World Report and Becker’s Hospital Review. As the largest employer west of Louisville, Owensboro Health has 4,088 employees, and in FY 2015 saw 18,380 inpatient admissions and 823,072 outpatient encounters. A committed community partner, Owensboro Health provided grants of $702,924 in the last year to health, social service, education and arts agencies across the region. For more information, visit owensborohealth.org.

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