Helping Seniors Prevent Falls

It’s good for seniors to be stable on their feet.  But, you already knew that, right?  The fact is, I’m not as stable on my feet as I was a half-century ago.  I have not yet hit paydirt (as of 9:50 PM on December 8, 2021), and am grateful for that, but I have had some close calls.

 Falls are a common cause of injury for us older folk. Fortunately, many of these accidents can be avoided. Let’s learn how we can reduce the risks of falling so we can enjoy more years of independent living.

Learning the Facts About Falls

1. Get familiar with the statistics. One out of three adults 65 years or older falls each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Up to one-third of these accidents cause serious injury, including broken hips or head trauma, and increase the risk of early death.

2. Recognize our risk factors. The chance of falling increases with age. People with certain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or high blood pressure are also at higher risk. However, we can control many of the causes by changing our lifestyle and installing simple safety aids in our homes.

3. Know how to get up correctly. Even if we do fall, we may be able to minimize the damage by training ourselves on how to get up appropriately. If we're seriously hurt, call for help and remain still. Otherwise, try to fall on our side or buttocks and then rise to a kneeling position from which we can lift ourselves onto a chair.

Making Behavioral Changes

1. Get our vision tested. Poor vision can lead to a tumble. Have our eyes checked at least once a year and wear our glasses as directed.

2. Exercise regularly. Tai Chi or yoga will improve our balance. Walking just 30 minutes a day will strengthen our legs.

3. Take care of our bones. Any weight-bearing exercise, including walking, will also slow down bone loss. Ensure we get adequate calcium and vitamin D. Talk with our doctor about osteoporosis.

4. Manage our medications. Some drugs cause drowsiness and dizziness. Make sure our doctor and pharmacist know everything we take including prescriptions and over-the-counter products.

5. Slow down. Rushing can be dangerous. Get up slowly if we've been sitting or lying down for a while.

6. Dress safely. Look for supportive shoes with thin rubber soles. Keep our bathrobes and pants hemmed.

7. Work through our fears. Seniors who restrict their activities because they are afraid of falling put themselves at greater risk by becoming sedentary. Recruit a loved one or a physical therapist to help us learn to move around safely.

Modifying Our Surroundings

1. Install grab bars in our bathroom. Most injuries occur in the bathroom. Add safety bars next to our toilet. Put them in the shower along with a stool.

2. Improve our lighting. Buy some nightlights. Switch to light bulbs with maximum wattage. Keep a lamp next to our bed. Make sure stairs are well lit from top to bottom.

3. Watch out for slippery floors. Get rid of area rugs or secure them. We can keep them in place with double-sided tape or non-skid mats.

4. Rework our stairs. Stairs can be another area of concern. Handrails need to run the full length of the stairs. Attach carpet firmly. Add rubber treads or reflective tape to uncarpeted stairs.

5. Rearrange our cabinets. Move stuff out of the highest cabinets. If we have to reach for anything, buy a sturdy stool or small A-frame ladder to stand on instead of a chair.

6. Inspect the outside of our home. Falls also happen outdoors. Repair any uneven surfaces. Clear away debris. If we're concerned about our risk of falling, talk with our doctor.

There are many practical steps seniors and our caregivers can take to prevent falls around the home or outdoors. Few are very expensive or time-consuming, either. 

Give the ideas above a try, and we're on our way to a healthier, happier life!

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