Older adults value their independence and wish to maintain their independence as long as possible. The risk of falls significantly increases as we age. In fact, over one third of people age 65 or older fall each year. Falls can lead to serious injury and disability that affects a person’s ability to live independently. Falls lead to broken bones, cuts, and head injury and are leading causes of emergency room visits in the elderly. Falls can be prevented. Here are a few simple things you can do to reduce your risk of falling or to reduce the risk of falls for a loved one.
1. Exercise. A regular exercise program will help to improve strength, balance, and coordination. If you are unsure which exercises to do or are worried about your safety while exercising, a physical therapist can help you to get started on a safe and effective exercise regimen. Also, some people suffer from an inner ear condition called vertigo. This causes the sensation that everything is spinning. There are exercises your therapist can do with you that can help with vertigo.
2. Review your medications with your health care provider. Bring all your medications with you to your appointment, whether prescription or over the counter. Certain medications may have side effects that contribute to loss of balance and falls. Or your medications may interact with one another in such a way as to cause you to lose your balance more easily. Your doctor may decide to wean you off of some medications or change your prescription to another similar medication.
3. Have your vision checked. Poor vision increases your risk of falling. It is common that our vision deteriorates as we age. Yearly check-ups with your eye doctor can help you be sure you are maintaining the proper prescription. Also, your eye doctor can screen for conditions that affect your vision like cataracts or glaucoma.
4. Maintain a clear path throughout your home. Be sure that papers, books, clothes, or other items are not left in the floor in areas where you walk. These things can cause you to trip or lose your balance when stepping over them. Also, if you use a cane or walker, be sure your path is wide enough to use these things and furniture is not blocking your way.
5. Remove small throw rugs from your home. These rugs can slide easily on the floor under them causing you to lose your balance. At the very least, if you choose not to remove these rugs, use double-sided tape on these rugs to keep them from slipping on the floor.
6. Keep frequently used items within reach. This will keep you from needing to use a stool to reach things and will also avoid the excessive reaching which shifts your center of balance into a more risky area.
7. Have good lighting in your home. This goes along with vision. As we get older we need brighter light to see well. It is especially important to use a night-light. This will give you some light with which to orient yourself if you wake up at night and need to get out of bed.
8. In the bathroom, use handrails and grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet. This will give you something to hold on to when using these facilities. A non-slip mat in the floor of your shower or bath will also help to avoid slipping.
9. Be sure your stairs have handrails. Handrails on both sides of your stairs will further reduce your risk of falling. Be sure to use handrails that are available. Take your time going up and down steps and be aware that this is a particularly risky hazard.
10. Wear shoes, whether inside or outside your home. Not only will they protect your feet so that you avoid stepping on something that may cause you to react and fall, they also help to keep you from slipping and help you maintain your balance.
If you are at increased risk of falling or have a history of falling, see your doctor or physical therapist to reduce your risks and avoid serious injury.