Falls are common. We all trip and hurt ourselves, but as we grow older, the risk of serious injury increases. Experts estimate that approximately one-third of older adults 65+ fall one or more times a year. In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults. As we age, physical changes and health conditions — and sometimes medications — make falls more likely. While fear of falling does not need to rule your life, there are ways to prevent falls. Here are six simple fall-prevention strategies.
Make an appointment with your physician
Begin your fall-prevention plan by making an appointment with your primary care physician. Review with your doctor:
1). All prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and supplements you are taking with your doctor and discuss side effects. Do any increase your risk for falling? You may want to ask your physician to consider changing medications or weaning you off those that may make you tired or affect your thinking.
2). If you’ve fallen within the last year, discuss how and where you fell. If you almost fell but were caught by someone or managed to grab hold of something just in time, be sure to discuss with your physician. These details may help your doctor identify specific fall-prevention strategies.
3). Discuss all your health conditions and how comfortable you are when walking. Your doctor should evaluate your muscle strength, balance and walking style as well as examine your eyes and ears. Your physician may also verify that your vitamin D levels are within the normal range, to ensure strong bones and muscles.
4). Schedule an appointment with your optometrist and have your eyes examined.
Keep moving. Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. Once you have the “all clear” from your physician, engage in activities such as walking, water aerobics or tai chi. Such activities improve strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility.
If you avoid physical activity because you’re afraid of falling, tell your doctor. Your physician may recommend carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physical therapist who can create a custom exercise program aimed at improving your balance, flexibility, muscle strength and gait.
While exercise is important, it’s also important to maintain a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids and maintain a regular sleep schedule.
Wear sensible shoes
Consider changing your footwear as part of your fall-prevention plan. High heels, flip-flops, and fancy dress shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble or fall. The best option is to wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles. A sensible shoe may also reduce joint pain.
Improve indoor safety
Take a look around the inside of your home. Spend time examining your living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, hallways, and stairways for potential hazards. To make your home safer:
- Remove boxes, newspapers, electrical cords and phone cords from walkways.
- Move coffee tables, magazine racks and plant stands out of high-traffic areas.
- Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape or a slip-resistant backing or better yet — remove loose rugs from your home.
- Repair loose, wooden floorboards, and carpeting right away.
- Store clothing, dishes, food and other necessities within easy reach.
- Immediately clean spilled liquids, grease or food.
- Use nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower. Purchase a bath seat.
Shine a light on your living space
Keep your home bright and well lit to avoid tripping on objects that might be hard to see.
- Increase lighting, especially near the stairs and bathrooms. Use plug-in-night-lights and movement-sensitive lights.
- Place night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways.
- Put a lamp within easy reach of your bed.
- Consider replacing traditional switches for glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches.
- Turn on lights BEFORE going up or down steps.
- Store flashlights in easy-to-reach locations in case of power outages.
Use assistive devices
Your doctor might recommend that you use a cane or walker to keep you steady. Other assistive devices around the home to consider include:
- Handrails on both sides of all stairways
- Nonslip treads for hardwood steps
- A raised toilet seat
- Install grab bars in the bathroom as bathroom tiles can be slippery especially when wet.
- Use nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower.
- Purchase a bath seat for the shower or tub — plus a hand-held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down
The good news about falls is that most can be prevented. The key is to know where to look. Some solutions are easily installed and relatively inexpensive. Others may require professional help or a larger investment. If you’re concerned about the cost, remember that an investment in fall prevention is an investment in your independence.