Falls account for the highest number of fatal and non-fatal injuries in senior citizens. Every year, about one in three adults over age 65 experiences a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While not all falls cause serious injuries, about one in five results in significant damage, such as a broken bone or head injury. These outcomes can lead to long-term limits on the victim’s mobility and independence.
Several risk factors can increase the likelihood that you will fall. By identifying and modifying these risk factors, you can lower your chances of experiencing a fall and its consequences.
Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling:
Consult with Your Physician About Your Risk for Falls
Some medications, including antidepressants and sedatives, can make you feel dizzy or sleepy. Ask your physician whether these symptoms could be side effects of any prescription or over-the-counter drugs that you’re taking. If so, discuss your options for a regime that will lower these symptoms.
Tell your physician if you’re feeling any joint pain, numbness, or shortness of breath when you walk. These symptoms could jeopardize your ability to hold yourself upright and walk steadily. By evaluating your balance, muscle strength, and the way you walk, your physician can identify the source of these problems.
Your physician may recommend that you take vitamin D supplements to assist in preventing falls. Studies have shown that patients who had adequate vitamin D levels experienced fewer falls and fractures. The American Geriatric Society recommends that older adults receive sufficient levels of vitamin D from a combination of foods, sunlight, and supplements.
Make Activity Part of Your Daily Routine
Include some type of physical activity in your life to build lower body strength. Regular exercise can be as simple as a daily walk. This type of movement helps build strong leg muscles. Gentle exercise programs, such as water aerobics and tai chi, can help maintain balance and coordination.
Even if you do suffer a fall, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to regroup and recover if you exercise. Research has shown that exercise can reduce the incidence of falls in older adults by improving reaction time and flexibility. These benefits can contribute to your ability to break a fall and minimize the impact.
Clean Up and Clear Out Your Living Space
Among older adults, about 60 percent of falls happen at home, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To ensure your safety at home, make your walking spaces as clear as possible. Move boxes, electrical and phone cords, small furniture, magazine racks, pet items, and other objects that could cause you to trip. Remove loose rugs and secure and repair loose floorboards and carpeting as well.
If you’re accumulating clutter because you’re not ready to purge your belongings, relocate items from the floor to a shelf. While you’re moving things around, take time to reposition those objects that you use the most so that they’re easily accessible. Put them in a place that you can reach without the use of a stool.
Use Lights to Help You See Obstacles
You can’t avoid what you can’t see. Make sure that your home has sufficient lighting to allow you to see objects that might be on floors or stairs. Don’t forget about properly lighting outdoor spaces to allow you to travel in and out of your home safely.
For nighttime safety, put a light within reach in case you awaken in the middle of the night. The combination of being groggy and the darkness can make you more susceptible to fall even in the most familiar places. Use night lights so that you’re never vulnerable to complete darkness in the bathroom or hallway. It’s smart to keep flashlights within reach on every floor in the event that a loss of electricity makes your lighting unusable.
Use Devices to Help You Remain Steady
It’s important that the devices you use to help you remain safe are the right ones. Ensure that glasses are the proper prescription and fit with regular vision screenings. Monitor your hearing with regular check-ups. Use and maintain hearing aids as directed.
Start out with a firm footing by wearing the right shoes. Sturdy, well-fitting shoes with non-skid soles will give you the best foundation while you walk. Walking with slip-on shoes, high heels, slippers, or even stocking feet, can jeopardize your stability and create a slippery surface between your foot and the floor.
If you feel unsteady or shaky when walking, try using a cane to supplement your balance and help you feel secure. Proper sizing will ensure that the device will do its job. If a cane is too short or too long, it can reduce, rather than improve, your balance.
Walkers, which vary between two wheels, four wheels, or four fixed tips, can provide a wide base of stability. Choosing the right style depends on whether you need to put weight on the walker when you move. Before choosing any supportive device, check with a physical therapist or medical equipment specialist to ensure that you use the most appropriate style in the right size. For the best results, learn how to use your device properly.
Install Supportive Equipment in Your Home
You also can reduce your risk of falls by installing supportive equipment in areas where falls are most likely to occur. In the bathroom, a raised toilet seat or armrests can make it easier to sit and stand. Grab bars in the shower and tub can help you remain steady when surfaces are slippery. If you’re unsteady standing for long periods, consider using a shower seat and handheld shower head to bathe while sitting down.
If your house has wooden steps, non-slip treads can provide traction as you climb or descend. The value of having a set of handrails will allow you to step more naturally, with support on both sides. It’s a safer way to use stairs rather than twisting to lean on just one handrail.
Taking precautions to ensure that you’re stepping safely can lower your risk of falls. Always take time to assess your environment, looking for obstacles that might block or restrict your path. Moving slowly and purposefully will help you ensure that you’re making every step a safe one.