Falls are the leading cause of injury among older people. In fact, more than one in three people 65 years or older fall each year. And as much as the “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials seemed funny at the time, in reality taking a fall can have serious ramifications. The good news is that you can take several easy steps now to help prevent the likelihood that you will experience a bad fall down the road.
It probably comes as no surprise that balance is one of those skills that starts to get a bit wonky as we age. We also start to lose muscle mass, and when you combine weakness with iffy balance, you get awkward falls. One way to combat this gradual loss of coordination is to stay active. Doctors recommend walking, leg-lifting exercises, and other low-impact activities like tai chi to help improve strength and balance and to reduce fatigue. Mild weight-bearing activities such as walking and climbing stairs could also slow bone loss due to osteoporosis (a factor that makes falling even scarier.) In addition to (ideally) daily exercise, medical experts recommend avoiding long periods of sitting, even if it just means that you get up between TV shows to stretch and walk around a bit.
Check Your Vision
As we’ve mentioned before in our post on making the most of your annual exams, eyesight should be checked regularly as you get older, because the deterioration could be happening so slowly you might fail to recognize that it’s happening at all. In a decisive 2017 study, researchers found that when doctors recommended fall prevention strategies incorporating daily activity and help for poor vision, elderly falls were reduced dramatically.
Prepare Your Home
Take it from someone who has been accident-prone her entire life: it’s the simple things that get ya. Do a good scan of your house and try to identify things that might cause you to trip, slip, or take a misstep, and eliminate them now. Here’s a list of things to get you started:
- Clear all walkways of boxes, newspapers, electrical cords, or phone cords. While you’re at it, make sure all high-traffic areas are free of obstacles like coffee tables, magazine racks, or plant stands as well.
- Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, tacks, and/or slip-resistant backing… or eliminate area rugs altogether.
- Repair loose floorboards and carpeting.
- Keep things that you use regularly within easy reach — if you need a stepstool to get a glass from the cupboard, maybe rethink that system.
- Use non-slip mats in the bathroom and kitchen, or anywhere the floor might get wet. It’s also smart to install handles and grips in the bathroom near the tub/shower as well.
- Wear good shoes or slippers. Fluffy flip flops without treads are just an accident waiting to happen.
- Install nightlights, especially in places where you know you might walk at night (like the bathroom and the hallways that lead there.)
Be Aware of Your Potential Risk
By talking to your health team you can be aware of any increased risk you might have due to common conditions or medications. For example, if you suffer from blood pressure issues, standing up too quickly could lead to you feeling wobbly or faint. Many medications — especially those intended to help you sleep — can also have side-effects that can impact balance throughout the day. Antidepressants, antihistamines, medications for chronic pain, and those that help manage blood pressure can also have problematic impacts, so be sure to ask if you should be extra careful.
Alcohol use is also associated with an increased risk of falling, because it not only negatively impacts your coordination and balance, but it also reduces your ability to recover if you start to go down. Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use. If you regularly consume alcohol, be extra careful at dinnertime and while watching TV at night to ensure that you don’t have too much, and get up slowly to check for steadiness.
Other Articles You Might Enjoy:
- Things You Can Do Every Day To Stay Strong
- The Importance of Staying Hydrated
- Long-Term Care: Receiving Health Care in Your Home