From tiny tots to tenacious grandmas, preventing falls is an important part of healthy aging. So I’ve dedicated two posts to the subject. In the first, I identified risk factors and prevention measures for children, and in this second, I’ll identify risk factors and prevention measure for older adults and those with mobility issues.
As we grow older our bodies change in ways that can increase our risk of falling. In fact, falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year millions of older people, those 65 and older, fall. More than one-in-four older people fall each year, but less than half tell their doctor. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again. Many of these falls sadly, result in serious injury and loss of mobility and independence.
Why Do People Fall?
Some of the reasons people fall are:
- Tripping or slipping due to loss of footing or traction
- Slow reflexes, which make it hard to keep your balance or move out of the way of a hazard
- Balance problems
- Reduced muscle strength
- Poor vision
- Medication side effects
Most falls are caused by a combination of these risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling. The great news is we have control over some of these changes and the fear of falling doesn’t need to rule your life. By putting some simple strategies into place, from talking with your doctor to hazard proofing your home, many falls can be prevented.
So here are 11 tips to help keep you safe.
1. Have a heart to heart with your doctor.
Begin your fall prevention plan by making an appointment with your doctor. Be prepared to discuss all medications you are taking. Prescription, over-the-counter medications, and supplements—make a list, or take them with you to your appointment. Your doctor will want to review your medications for possible side effects or interactions with one another that may increase your risk of falling. Your doctor may even consider weaning you off of some medications that make you drowsy, lightheaded, or impact your mental acuity to further prevent falls.
2. Fall evaluation, manage health conditions.
Your doctor will also want to discuss previous falls. Do your best to write down details, including when, where, and how you fell or instances when you almost fell but were caught by someone or managed to stop the fall by grabbing hold of something. All of this information will help your doctor to assess any underlying medical issues such as dizziness, joint pain, eye or ear disorders which can increase your risk of a fall. Your doctor may also evaluate your balance, nutrition, muscle strength, and walking gait.
3. Movement matters.
Did you know our core muscles play a big part in our balance and stability? Making sure your core muscles are healthy and engaged is important to your overall muscle health and stability.
Make a point to discuss physical fitness and activity with your doctor. Physical activity can go a long way toward preventing falls. Discuss with your doctor activities that might be best suited for you such as walking, workouts in the water, gardening, light weight-conditioning, or tai chi, a low-impact, relaxing form of exercise that only takes about 20 minutes a day. All of these activities improve balance, strength, coordination, and flexibility. Each exercise also engages your core.
Be sure to address with your doctor if you find that you are avoiding physical fitness or activity because you’re afraid it may make falls more likely. There are many carefully monitored exercise programs or physical therapists who can create custom programs aimed at improving your muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.
Being open and honest with your doctor will benefit you both in developing a personalized fall prevention strategy.
4. Make your home safer.
The CDC reports that every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, tragically an older adult dies from a fall. Fifty-five percent of those falls take place inside the home.
Some falls happen when we don’t realize that our physical ability has changed. We continue to do tasks that put us at risk, like shoveling snow or climbing a ladder. However, if we identify and correct possible hazards, change how we do things, and ask for help when we need it, we can greatly decrease our chances of falling.
5. Footwear first.
High heels, floppy slippers, and shoes with slick soles may be your preferred go-to shoe but they can make you trip, slip, stumble, and fall. The same goes for walking in sock-covered feet, which could cause you to slide. Instead choose well-fitted, sturdy shoes with a non-slip sole and low broad heel. Wearing sensible shoes may also reduce foot joint pain as well as muscle and ligament inflammation.
6. Let there be light.
Go room to room, and ask yourself if there is enough lighting. Each room should be well lit so it can be easily and safely navigated day or night. As we age our night vision gets weaker, so adequate lighting throughout the entire home is extremely important. Adding nightlights to hallways, around stairs, and frequently visited rooms at night, like bathrooms, are a great fall prevention strategy. Light switches should be easy to reach and near each doorway. Replace burned out bulbs as soon as you can. Ask for help if the bulb is too high up or difficult for you to reach. Always have a couple of flashlights with fresh batteries on hand in case of a power outage, especially within reach of your bed.
7. These floors were made for walking.
Choose non-slip flooring such as carpet or slip-resistant tiles. If there are hardwood floors, are there any loose boards? If there are carpets, are there rips, curled edges, or tears? Your home’s floors should be even without any hazards to cause you to trip and take a tumble. Remove any clutter, electrical cords, or other objects that prevent clear, safe paths. Although throw rugs and mats look great, they can be a potential hazard due to their likelihood to slide and shift. Secure them to the floor with double-sided tape. If you have a change in floor level in your home, consider contrasting colors or textures to signal the difference in floor height.
8. Handrails for steady support.
As we age, maintaining our balance is often a struggle. Be sure stairs are well lit and there are handrails on both sides of the staircase, if possible. Wherever there are steps, there should be properly mounted, sturdy handrails. If necessary, consider having a stair lift installed, a great safety feature for those with bedrooms on the second floor of their homes.
9. Don’t rely on towel racks for support.
Staircases aren’t the only place requiring handrails. Walls near your shower, bathtub, and toilet should have grab bars, too. These help you to maintain your balance while bathing and provide support to hold onto when entering or exiting a shower or bathtub. Place a non-skid bath mat in tubs or showers to help prevent slips and falls. Also think about installing bathroom flooring that is slip-resistant when wet.
10. What’s cookin’ in the kitchen?
How high are the cabinets? Where do you keep your medications? Try to put frequently used items in easily accessed places that don’t require a step stool to reach them. If you find you do need a step stool, choose a sturdy one with a handrail and wide steps. Store light items higher and heavy items in lower cupboards. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need to reach higher places.
11. Venturing outdoors.
Keep your sidewalks, driveway, and decks around your home in good repair, well lit, and free of obstacles such as leaves, snow, and ice. When sidewalks are slick walk on the grass. Put salt or kitty litter on icy sidewalks to prevent slips. Clean grease and oil from your garage floor, and put away any items or tools like rakes or shovels that could cause you to trip.
By making small improvements to your life and surroundings, you can significantly decrease your chances of falling. Preventing falls is critical so you can stay active, healthy, be independent, and above all, enjoy what you love to do!
Do you have a great tip for preventing falls? If so, we’d love to hear it. Visit Show Me CPR & Personal Safety on Facebook to share your tip.