Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. In fact, one out of four older Americans falls every year, causing hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. Even when older adults don’t suffer from a significant injury caused by a fall, it can make them fearful or depressed, limiting their ability to stay active.
Falling doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. The good news is that most falls can be prevented. One of the first ways to prevent falls is to understand the common factors that can lead to a fall.
Balance and gait: With aging comes the potential loss of coordination, flexibility, and balance. Inactivity is one of the primary culprits responsible for these losses to happen, making it easier to fall.
Vision: As the eyes age, less light reaches the retina—making contrasting edges, tripping hazards, and obstacles more difficult to see.
Medications: Some medications—prescriptions and over-the-counter—can cause dizziness, dehydration, or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall.
Environment: Many seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and have never given any thought to simple modifications that might keep it safer as they age.
Chronic conditions: More than 70 million adults 50 and older suffer from at least one chronic condition, such as diabetes, stroke, or arthritis. These conditions can often increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or multiple medications.
There are several things you can do to prevent falls.
Make an Appointment with Your Doctor: Make an appointment with your doctor and be prepared to answer questions such as:
What medications are you taking? Make a list or take a photo of all your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements, or take them with you to your appointment. Your doctor can review your medications for side effects and any potential interactions that may increase your risk of falling. Your doctor may even consider weaning you off medications that make you tired or affect your thinking, such as sedatives and some types of antidepressants, to help with fall prevention.
Have you fallen before? Write down all the details of your fall, including when, where, and how. Don’t forget to mention any instances when you almost fell but were caught by someone or managed to grab hold of something just in time. This information can help your doctor identify specific fall-prevention strategies.
Could your health conditions cause a fall? Things such as certain eye and ear disorders may increase your risk of falls. It’s important to discuss your health conditions and how comfortable you are when you walk—for example, do you feel any dizziness, joint pain, shortness of breath, or numbness in your feet and legs when you walk? This may indicate to your doctor that they need to evaluate your muscle strength, balance, and walking style (gait).
Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. Consider activities such as walking, water workouts, or tai chi—a gentle exercise that involves slow and graceful dance-like movements, with your doctor’s approval. Activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility.
If you’re avoiding physical activity because you're afraid it will increase your chances of falling, tell your doctor. He or she may recommend carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physical therapist. A physical therapist can create a custom exercise program to improve your balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and gait.
Check Your Footwear
Sure, those high-heels may look good, but they’re not doing you any favors when it comes to lowering your chance of falling. High heels, floppy slippers, and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble, and fall. So can walking in your stocking feet. Wearing properly fitted, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles can reduce falling. Sensible shoes may also reduce joint pain.
Remove Home Hazards
Your living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, hallways, and stairways may be filled with hazards. To make your home safer:
- Remove boxes, newspapers, electrical cords, and phone cords from walkways.
- Get rid of coffee tables, magazine racks, and plant stands in high-traffic areas.
- Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, tacks, or a slip-resistant backing— or remove loose rugs altogether.
- Have loose, wooden floorboards and carpeting repaired right away.
- Store necessities within easy reach.
- Clean spilled liquids, grease, or food immediately.
- Place nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower.
Make Your Living Space Bright
Keeping your home brightly lit will help you avoid tripping on objects that are hard to see. Also:
- Consider placing night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways.
- Make sure a lamp is within reach of your bed for middle-of-the-night needs.
- Clear paths to light switches that aren't near room entrances. Consider trading traditional switches for glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches.
- Turn on the lights before using stairways.
- Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages.
Check out these evidence-based fall prevention programs. They can not only help you prevent falls but can be a great way to meet new people and enjoy social interaction!
Stay safe and let us know when you’re ready to consider one of our senior living options.