We all do it. We trip over a rock, pet, or rug. Lose our balance when stepping on something slick or after moving too fast. Sometimes we can recover, but sometimes that leads to a full-on plunge to the floor.
As we age falling is a greater threat, leading to serious injuries, expensive medical bills, losing our independent lifestyles––even losing our lives. Let’s standup to that threat!
We know that most falls are the result of several risk factors. The more risk factors, the greater chance we have of falling. Our first installment of our three part blog series on falls focused on tips to stay strong, confident, mobile and ready for adventure; our second installment is going to focus on tips from the experts–the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our own NW Director of Clinical Services, Sarah Shearer-Smith–on ways we can reduce our risk for falls and injury.
Groucho Marx wasn’t just joking when he said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of bandages and adhesive tape.”
Shearer-Smith agrees and says, “The very best way to prevent a fall or injury is to keep our environments safe and our bodies strong and prepared in case a challenge to our balance occurs.”
Here are four ways we can do just that!
#1 Make Strength and Balance Exercises Part of Your Everyday Routine
To avoid falling, it’s critical to exercise and stretch, keeping our legs and feet strong and maintaining optimum balance. In our last blog, we outlined three easy ways to achieve physical balance. As a reminder, always ask your doctor or healthcare provider about the best type of exercise program for you.
#2 Walk Through Your Home with Fresh Eyes
An assessment of our homes and some simple changes can go a long way in decreasing our risk for falls. See the CDC’s helpful checklist.
- Lighting: Is there sufficient, easy-to-access light near your bed, in hallways, and on the way to and in the bathroom? Consider light timers, automatic night lights, touch lights, flashlights, and light switches that glow.
- Floors: Remove or secure rugs that move or curl up. Consider non-slip strips or mats in areas that get wet and slippery (such as the bathroom, kitchen, or pet areas). Identify thresholds between areas that can be a tripping hazard and consider having them fixed, a threshold transition or safety kit installed, or marking them with bright colors to highlight the danger.
- Pathways: Keep pathways clear! Remove any clutter and items that can become tripping hazards such as: cords, wires, boxes, books, clothes, shoes, bedding, pet bedding, and/or furniture that sticks out. Bells can be placed on pets’ collars to help announce when they may be coming near.
- Frequently Used Objects: Improve access to these items. Consider moving them to more central areas and waist-level/more easily reachable heights.
- Plan for Tasks/Activities: Think through what items are needed and move them to handy locations to prevent having to run for extra or missing items during a task. Is there a stable surface to sit on in case of fatigue or dizziness or a stable surface to pull up on or grab in case you lose your balance?
#3 Start with a Secure Foundation
The shoes we wear should provide support and stability. Avoid flip flops and other shoes that don’t cover the heel or that your foot slides around in easily. Shoes should fit well, give your toes plenty of room to wiggle, and have a firm heel and textured, non-skid sole.
#4 Partner with Your Healthcare Team
Remember, your doctor works for YOU. Don’t be intimidated to schedule an in-person or virtual meeting and ask the following questions to assess and lessen your risk of falls.
- Lifestyle and Current Medical Conditions: Am I at risk of falling? Talk openly about your risks for falls and about whether you feel unsteady and fearful of falling.
- Medications: Review all current over-the-counter medications and prescriptions and ask your doctor: Some medications have side effects of dizziness/unsteadiness and can contribute to falling. Have these side effects changed as I’ve aged? Is there an alternative to the medication? What happens if I stop taking the medication or miss a dose? (The CDC has some great one-page forms you can fill out to prepare for your visit to the doctor. Here’s an easy way to keep track of your medications to review with your doctor and a list of medications that can put you at risk.) Are any vitamins or supplements needed (to help maximize visual acuity or strong bones)?
- Regular Eye Exams: Do I have glaucoma and/or cataracts? It’s normal for our eyesight to weaken as we age, particularly when we hit our 60’s. Glaucoma and cataracts can set in and lenses like progressive or bifocals can sometimes distort distances.
- Home Safety Evaluation: Should I schedule an on-site home safety evaluation with a health professional to help identify needed adaptive/durable medical equipment, support devices (such as bars or railings), or other household modifications?
We hope you’re feeling empowered and more confident with these tips!
Watch for our next blog where we’ll share tips on what to do when a fall is unavoidable. There are best ways to fall to avoid or reduce injuries.