Preventing Falls And Their Consequences
Understanding How You Can Reduce Your Risk By Improving Your Health And Home
We all know how devastating falls can be for older people. A shattered wrist, a head injury, or a broken hip can severely decrease quality of life and in some cases reduce life expectancy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling and more than $34 billion is spent each year on direct medical costs from falls.
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. In fact, once an older adult does fall, even without injury, he or she is twice as likely to fall again.
Thankfully, falls can be prevented with a little awareness and a few 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 by doing the following:
• 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.
• Stay active and walk every day. Also consider taking exercise classes, balance classes, yoga or Tai Chi to build physical strength and improve balance. Every county in Western North Carolina offers such classes specifically designed for seniors. Go to www.wncfallpreventioncoalition.org to find a class near you.
• 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 fall, i.e. tranquilizers, sedatives, antidepressants and over-the-counter medicines can affect your balance.
• 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 any 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 sometimes can impact how you judge distances.
• Impaired hearing can put you at risk for balance issues as well as 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
Taking care of major risk factors for falling inside your home is easy and inexpensive.
• Eliminate clutter – Take a good look around the house. Remove anything from the floor that could cause you to trip – piles of reading material, electric cords, heaters or fans, and any other trip hazards.
• Secure rugs – It’s best to remove 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.
• Make your bathrooms safer – Be sure floors stay dry. Put nonslip mats in tubs and showers and in front of toilets. Install grab bars in showers and anywhere you think they’d be helpful. Place a seat in the showers 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 (not behind furniture or across a room). Install good nightlights from the bedroom to the bathroom.
• 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.
• Live on one level – Consider moving to a home with one floor but if you can’t, take extra care on stairs and try to arrange your life so that climbing steps is kept to a minimum.
More Resources for Fall Prevention
Our area has organizations ready to help you assess your fall risk and to assist you in eliminating as much of that risk as possible. To find out more about fall prevention in your county and to find a risk assessor and other support services, contact the WNC Fall Prevention Coalitions at www.wncfallpreventioncoalition.org or call 828-250-3991.