According to numerous sources, including the Centers for Disease Control, one out of three older adults (those aged 65 or older) falls each year but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it. Falls are the leading cause of both injury and death among the senior citizen population. Each year about 23,000 people die from falls. If falls are not reported to your healthcare provider, associated injuries go untreated and can have unintended consequences. For example, hip fractures are rather common yet untreated hairline hip fractures can substantially increase the vulnerability of people being treated for heart problems or pneumonia. It is critical to rule out even hairline fractures from benign falls in the elder population and especially those seniors with risk factors and conditions like osteoporosis.
Make an appointment with your doctor
Begin your fall-prevention plan by making an appointment with your doctor. Be prepared to discuss the following areas:
What medications are you taking? Make a list of all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and supplements, or better yet place them in a bag and bring them with you to the appointment. A popular OTC allergy medication (diphenhydramine) can cause drowsiness making you more vulnerable to falls.
Have you fallen before? Write down the details, including when, where and how you fell. Also, cite any examples of when you almost fell but avoided it by clinging to something (railing, chair, etc.).
Could your health conditions cause a fall? Several physical conditions may increase your risk of falls. Additionally, some conditions may not impact balance initially but may over time. While discussing your health conditions include how comfortable you are when you walk. Are balance, joint pain or shortness of breath factors when you are walking or exercising?
Exercise maintains mobility
Physical activity preserves muscle tone and range of motion. This really is an area where use it or lose it rules. With your doctor’s approval, consider activities such as walking, water workouts or stationary bike riding. Such activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. Your doctor may recommend initially working with a physical therapist to develop a program that you can maintain by yourself.
Wear sensible shoes
Consider changing your footwear as part of your fall-prevention plan. High heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble and fall. So can walking in your stocking feet (especially on hard flooring). Instead wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles.
Eliminate home hazards
Survey your home-room by room. Your living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, hallways and stairways may be filled with fall hazards. To make your home safer:
- Remove boxes, newspapers, cords and shoes from walkways.
- Move coffee tables, magazine racks and plant stands from high-traffic areas.
- Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, tacks or a slip-resistant backing. Replace loose rugs and old, slippery 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/ shower and by bathroom and kitchen sinks.
Improve Home Lighting
Adequate and appropriately located lighting can improve visual acuity in your home thus avoid tripping on hard to see items.
- Place night lights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways.
- Place a lamp within reach of your bed for middle-of-the-night needs.
- Make 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 going up or down stairs.
- Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages.
Use assistive devices for added safety
Your doctor may recommend using a cane or walker to keep you steady. There are numerous devices to help compensate for the slowing down associated with aging. Do not minimize the role they can play in helping you maintain your independence. Some devices to consider include:
- Hand rails for both sides of stairways
- Nonslip treads for bare-wood steps
- A raised toilet seat or one with armrests
- Grab bars for the shower or tub
- A sturdy plastic seat for the shower or tub — plus a hand-held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down
If necessary, ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist. He or she can help you brainstorm other fall-prevention strategies.
When it comes to avoiding falls, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure!