Tips for preventing falls by improving your health and home
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall and every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. But even when no physical injury occurs, experiencing a fall can cause older adults to become worried and then depressed, to suffer decreased confidence and self-esteem and to begin to limit their activities and socialization out of fear – all of which can lead to more falls.
Falling is not a normal part of aging. And fortunately, falls can be prevented with awareness and simple changes around the home.
Prepping Yourself for Fall Prevention
As we age, we cannot regain our balance from a stumble as quickly as we once did but we can ensure we stay as alert, strong and flexible as possible to prevent that stumble in the first place.
Wear sturdy, nonslip shoes every day and all the time and clothing that is well-fitted and doesn’t bunch up or drag on the ground.
Take your time rather than hurrying, particularly when walking up and down stairs.
Be particularly mindful when visiting places outside your home since you may not be as familiar with their layouts.
Stay active and walk every day. Consider taking exercise classes, balance classes, yoga or tai chi to build physical strength and improve balance.
Schedule a doctor’s appointment specifically to discuss fall prevention.
Have your physician review your medications to ensure interactions do not increase your risk of a fall. For example, tranquilizers, sedatives, antidepressants and over-the-counter medicines can affect your balance.
Be careful when drinking alcohol since it can impair perception.
Discuss with your doctor any numbness, aches, foot pain or shortness of breath you experience as you go about your daily routine.
Get tested for balance, strength and gait.
Be treated for low blood pressure and vitamin D and calcium deficiencies as all are risk factors for falls.
Ensure thatany eyesight or hearing issues are noted and corrected if possible. Get an eye exam at least once a year and update your glasses as needed. If you wear bifocals or progressive lenses, consider getting a pair with only your distance prescription for outdoor activities, such as walking, because these types of lenses can impact how you judge distances.
Impaired hearing can put you at risk for balance issues in addition to isolation and reduced activity. Have your hearing checked and use a hearing aid if one is prescribed.
Bring up any other issues you think may put you at risk for a fall. For instance, if you’ve already suffered a fall, let your doctor know.
Ask for your overall risk level for falling and for recommendations on how to prevent a fall.
Talk with your healthcare provider about whether mobility assistance devices such as canes or walkers might help if you have impairments.
If your physician does not offer such assessments, ask to be referred to a physical therapist to evaluate your balance, strength and gait; see your eye doctor to evaluate your sight; have your hearing checked; and ask your pharmacist to review your medications for any potential interactions.
Prepping Your Home for Fall Prevention
Reducing major risk factors for falling inside your home is easy and inexpensive.
Eliminate clutter: Take a good look around the house and remove anything from the floor that could cause you to trip, such as piles of reading material, electric cords, heaters or fans.
Secure rugs: Remove any loose rugs. If you must keep them, secure them to the floor with double-sided tape.
Improve stairs: Stairways should be clear of clutter, and have sturdy handrails on both sides and be well lit.
Make your bathrooms safer: Be sure floors stay dry. Put non-slip mats in tubs and showers and in front of toilets. Install grab bars in showers and anywhere else they could be helpful. Place a seat in the shower or use a transfer bench in the tub.
Improve lighting: Be sure every room in the house – especially high traffic areas and bedrooms – are well lit. Ensure light switches are easily accessible from doorways and not behind furniture or across a room. Install good nightlights from the bedroom to the bathroom. Keep flashlights and fresh batteries in each room of your home, including in your bedroom by your bed.
Evaluate pet behavior: If pets are constantly underfoot or are strong enough to pull you over during a walk, you may want to create strategies – such as gates to keep pets off steps or having someone walk your dog – to keep both you and your pet safe.
Take precautions right outside your home: Make sure pathways and entrances are well lit. Install handrails where there are steps. Have sidewalks regularly pressure washed to eliminate slick spots that build up. Be careful with curbs. Keep your porch, deck, walkways and driveway in good repair and free of leaves, snow, trash, gardening and yard equipment and clutter. Consider nonslip paint on outdoor steps and walkways.
Live on one level: Consider moving to a home with one floor. If you can’t, take extra care on stairs and try to arrange your life so that climbing steps is kept to a minimum if stairs are challenging for you.
Fall Prevention Resources
Organizations throughout Western North Carolina can help you assess your fall risk and assist you in eliminating as much of that risk as possible through classes and training programs. Resources include:
WNC Fall Prevention Coalition: sites.google.com/view/wncfallpreventioncoalition/home
YMCA of Western North Carolina’s Moving for Better Balance classes: ymcawnc.org/moving-better-balance
YMCA and Land of Sky Regional Council Area Agency on Aging’s A Matter of Balance classes: ymcawnc.org/matter-of-balance
- Other Land of Sky Regional Council programs and classes: landofsky.org/fallprevention