As we age, the risk of falling and fractures increases—more so in women than men. Often, once a person falls, they tend to fall again within six months. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are two of the most important preventive actions we can take, but as we age, sometimes getting the exercise we need and eating healthy may become more difficult. Unfortunately, this can lead to poor muscle tone, loss of bone mass, and decreased flexibility and muscle strength. All these factors increase the risk of falling.
Although it is impossible to identify all things that puts you at greater risk of a fall, we can identify specific risk factors that increase the likelihood of a fall and try to prevent them:
Causes: Age, injury, and not enough time are all easy reasons to skip out on exercise.
Prevention: Try light exercise on a daily or every other day basis. Activities like swimming, yoga, or simply walking are a great way to start. Perform daily activities or chores like housecleaning or light yard work; always be careful to wear the appropriate clothing/shoes for the task.
Causes: As we age, balance, gait instability, poor protective reflexes increase our risk of not only falling but of suffering serious and sometimes life-threatening injuries in the event of a fall.
Prevention: Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. In addition, there are numerous evidence-based fall prevention programs including A Matter of Balance, Stepping On, and Moving for Better Balance to name a few. The National Council on Aging is a good resource for options in your own community.
Causes: Problems such as cataracts and glaucoma increase with age and can affect a person’s depth perception, reducing overall vision.
Prevention: Schedule regular eye exams; keep eyeglasses and contact lenses clean. You can also apply color strips to the first and last steps, or other level changes, in the home to help make them more noticeable. Color strips can also be applied to handrails to make them more visible.
Causes: Poor lighting, loose railings, and unsteady furniture can lead to falls. Tripping over rugs and other decorative items is also a common cause of falls.
Prevention: Walk through your home and identify areas that may be dangerous. Consider a visit from an occupational therapist who can identify problem areas and suggest solutions. Secure all rugs with non-skid tape.
Causes: As we age, we often need additional medications for conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, depression, etc. These can sometimes affect balance and mental awareness, and thus increase the risk of falling.
Prevention: Be aware of all common side effects of the medications you take. Discard all expired medications. Limit alcohol use while on any medications. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist about medications, and how, if at all, they can increase your risk of falling.
Other Safety Tips to Help Reduce Your Risk for Falling
- Wear shoes with non-skid soles, not slippers
- Make sure all rooms are well lit day and night
- Use night-lights in hallways and bathrooms
- Tidy up and remove unnecessary clutter
- Make sure a phone is on each level of the home with emergency numbers listed
- Keep all frequently used personal items within easy reach
- Install safety hand rails/grab bars around the bathtub, shower or toilet
- Use non-skid mats inside and outside the tub
- Install a handheld shower head or think about using a shower chair
- Carefully use step stools for things out of reach, or ask someone for assistance
- Before rising out of bed, sit for a moment to avoid a sudden drop in blood pressure that can cause dizziness
- Use mobility aides such as canes and walkers regularly if they have been recommended for you
- Be sure all stairwells are well lit and have handrails on both sides
- Always remove unnecessary clutter
- Check for cracks or uneven edges of sidewalks, driveways or pavement
- Keep walkways well lit
- Install handrails on stairs/steps
- In the winter, be sure to keep walkways shoveled and salted
- Look carefully at floor surfaces in public buildings. Many floors are made of highly polished tile that can be very slippery. When these surfaces are wet, they become very slick and dangerous. When floors have carpet runners in place, stay on them whenever possible.