Don’t Let a Fall Ruin Your Healthy, Happy LifeBy Dina Griffith, Director of Rehabilitation & Inpatient Physical Therapy
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injuries in people age 65 and older. Common injuries are fractures of the shoulder, forearm, spine, pelvis, and hip. Falls can happen anytime, anywhere, and at any age; however, older adults fall more easily and more often and may incur more severe fall-related injuries, including head injuries.
Falls do not have to be an inevitable part of aging, and while accidents do happen, you can keep falls from disrupting your life and your health.
One of the best ways is to keep your body strong throughout your lifetime with exercise and activity. If you have been a walker, runner or cyclist, keep up these activities at a level appropriate to your age and your health.
If you haven’t been active throughout your life or you don’t especially like exercise, you can also build strength through everyday activities. Walk everywhere you can, or use the stairs (with railings of course). Do some simple exercises at home such as getting up from the edge of a chair or pushing yourself up from a chair with arms several times in a row. When it gets too easy, add more repetitions.
Good posture is more important to maintain as we age and can also help reduce falls. You are better balanced when upright as muscles and joints are better aligned to respond and act quickly and effectively to changes in the environment. You will be more able to catch yourself from falling if you can step backwards and sideways, swiftly. Though balance declines as we age, simple balance exercises can be done: stand on one foot while waiting for the tea kettle; or while in line at the grocery store; or while brushing your teeth. Maintenance of your abilities is critical; safely pushing to improve is even better. The little stuff adds up!
If you do find yourself losing your balance and almost falling, pay attention to the circumstances. Were you in a hurry or were you distracted? Was there something you almost tripped on in your home or when you were out with friends? If you know what caused the incident, you have a better chance of preventing a fall next time.
The majority of falls happen at home so it could be time to make your home safer.
- Remove trip-hazards such as throw rugs.
- Make sure there is good lighting around bathrooms, stairways, and stairwells. Consider nightlights and having handrails professionally installed on both sides of the stairs, in the bathroom, in the tub, and shower area. Falls in the home often involve rushing to the bathroom so try to establish a regular bathroom schedule such as going right before bed and avoiding drinking fluids after dinner.
- Mark thresholds going into a room or into the house where there is a surface change in texture or height.
- Remove delicate or wobbly furniture; use only heavy furniture for balance. In the kitchen, never use stools. Arrange items used most on the counter or in the easiest-to-reach cabinets.
- Check to see your pants or nightgowns aren’t too long or that the hems aren’t raveled. Wear only low, closed heeled shoes and house shoes, no backless slippers. Make sure your shoe laces are tied.
- Pets can also be a safety hazard, especially if they get tangled up in your feet or cause you to trip as you are walking in the house or outdoors. Sometimes it just takes an adjustment in feeding or other routines to decrease the hazard.
Medications also play a role in preventing falls. If you take more than four medications, have the list reviewed by your doctor to be sure the drug interactions are not making you sleepy or dizzy. If you are prone to dizziness when waking up, you may want to put a commode at your bedside. To prevent dizziness when getting up from a chair or bed, sit on the edge of the bed or chair and pump your ankles or elbows to get the blood moving and take a couple of deep breaths before getting up.
If you live alone and if you are concerned about falling, wearing a falls monitoring device can bring you or your family greater peace of mind. Don’t let a fall keep you from feeling good, healthy and happy, and doing the most that you can with your life.
For more resources about fall prevention visit www.maringeneral.org/fallprevention or take one of our classes, offered in collaboration with A Matter of Balance, call Beverly Winsor at 1-415-993-2557.