Avoiding Falls, One Step at a Time
While we can’t avoid all potential hazards, there are many things we can do to lower the risk of falling and reduce the chance of serious injury.
Think of the many situations that might cause anyone to fall – from tripping over a loose root on a path to losing footing while stepping off a curb. For people older than 65, this is especially critical. Why? Because studies show that one out of three adults 65 and up have experienced a fall – and a history of falling is one of the biggest risks and predictors for falling again. "When I think about my mom as she gets older, I really want to be sure she doesn't fall,” says Carlos Jimenez, DPT, Director of Sports Medicine, Canyon Ranch. A recent study published in the medical journal JAMA found that for people over 75, deaths from falls more than doubled between 2000 and 2016. Keep reading, though: There’s good news. “There are so many risk factors for falls, especially in older adults, that we can control, monitor, and change,” says Carlos.
Below, these seven fall prevention tips can help anyone lower their risk of injury, while also gaining strength and confidence.
Did you know that adults over 70 who practice tai chi twice a week for an hour reduced incidents of falls by 58 percent? Another study showed that yoga for seniors, such as chair yoga, or gentle yoga for balance classes, resulted in an improved ability to rise from a chair, increased step length, weight loss, and a reduced fear of falling. Plus, therapeutic yoga and physical therapy can help correct kyphosis, a curvature of the spine that causes people to bend forward. By opening up the muscles of the shoulders and collar bones, and strengthening the mid-to-low back muscles, seniors can start to reverse kyphosis and stand straighter, lowering their fall risk and chance of serious injury. A physical therapist can provide strength-building exercises tailored specifically for individuals.
Some medications may conflict with others or have side effects that create a risk for falling, such as drowsiness or dizziness. Anti-depression medications, drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, anxiolytics/hypnotics, drugs used in dementia, antipsychotics, and some that treat high blood pressure or allergies may have side effects. Speak with a physician for guidance.
Monitor Home Environment Triggers
Poor lighting, loose rugs, slippery stairs, loose doorknobs, jammed cabinet doors, or cracked sidewalks can all be fixed. A tip for slippery wooden stairs or floors: Apply two coats of anti-slip coating. If stairways are too difficult, you might buy a chair lift or move to a one-story home. Eliminate tripping hazards such as extension cords that stretch across the floor. Any unruly dogs in the house? Consider hiring a trainer or dog walker.
Support Your Feet
Footwear has been linked to falls. High heels and shoes that have hard soles can affect posture, balance, and gait. So can wearing slippers and socks without gripping pads on the soles. Opt for low-heeled shoes with a supported back and a sole with a good tread. Anything the foot slides into is not a good idea. And if you have trouble walking, get a cane to help steady your gait. There are fashionable ones out there!
Check Your Vision
Vision impairment is a fall risk, especially for those with depth perception or macular-related issues, as they can increase clumsiness. If it’s difficult to walk using old glasses or if vision is blurred, it’s time for an eye checkup.
Rule Out Orthostatic Hypotension Risk
This blood-pressure-based condition makes a person feel dizzy or light-headed upon getting up after lying down. Rising quickly from being alarmed—such as when the phone rings, or a dog barks, for instance--could potentially cause a loss of balance. Arrange for an examination with a physician to determine blood pressure risks.
It makes good sense to have a physical exam or speak with a sports medical advisor, especially for anyone who expresses a fear of falling or has fallen within the past 12 months. A physician can monitor blood pressure, blood sugar fluctuations, nutrition, exercise habits, and other risk factors.
Anyone can fall, so everyone should be careful. Taking precautions now can make a world of difference later.