Preventing Falls: It Starts at Home
Many of us have personally known an older person who fell and suffered an injury, be it a broken bone like a wrist or hip, or a serious head injury.
If you’ve fallen yourself, even if you weren’t injured, there’s a high likelihood you’re afraid of falling again. In fact, some people are so afraid of falling that they start to limit their activities. Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle: when the person becomes less physically active, they also become weaker; thus increasing their chances of falling. The good news is there are steps you can take to help prevent falls and keep living your life to the fullest.
Why Falls are a Concern
Not all falls cause serious harm. However, one out of five falls can cause a serious injury like a broken bone or head injury. A broken wrist, arm or hip can lead to a loss of independence during recovery. Fortunately, most people are able to return to an independent life after they’ve healed from broken bones provided they don’t have other issues. However, the second type of injury, head injury, can be serious; it’s especially dangerous if the person is on medications like blood thinners. When someone falls and hits their head, they need to see a doctor immediately to ensure there’s no injury to the brain. Always tell your doctor about any fall you have, even if you didn’t get hurt.
Why Do People Fall?
Every year, 2.5 million people over the age of 65 are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. What’s causing all these falls? It’s probably no surprise that household hazards are a common cause. Uneven or broken stairs, bunched up throw rugs, or clutter on the ground pose obvious tripping hazards. More often than not, it’s a combination of home dangers and physical health issues that lead to a fall injury. Physical and health factors that contribute to falls include:
- A weak lower body
- A lack of vitamin D
- Problems with balance when walking
- Taking medications that impact balance, such as sedatives and certain antidepressants
- Problems with vision
- Poor footwear
1. How to Prevent Health-Related Falls
Taking care of your general health may cut down on your risk of falling. Here are some tips to help keep you safe:
- Stay active. Stronger muscles assist with balance, and exercise can also help you loosen up and stay flexible. Additionally, weight-bearing exercises, as simple as walking or stair climbing, can reduce your rate of osteoporosis-related bone loss, so you’ll have less chance of breaking a bone if you fall.
- Have your eyes and ears routinely tested. Poor vision or hearing can make a fall more likely. One possible reason that hearing can lead to a fall is that those who can’t hear well may be generally unaware of their environment.
- Check medications you’re taking for any side effects, like dizziness or sleepiness, that could lead to falls. If you experience those side effects, talk with your doctor to find out about your options.
- Get up slowly. Standing up too fast can lead to a drop in blood pressure that will make you feel dizzy or woozy.
- Be careful about drinking alcohol. If you’re concerned about falls, consider reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption. Even a small amount can have a detrimental effect on your balance and coordination.
- Get a cane. If you feel unsteady when you walk, a cane, walker or walking stick might give you the stability you need. Don’t just grab any cane. Having one made to your measurements by a specialist can make a big difference in ease of use and protection against falls.
- Wear non-skid shoes. And not just for outdoor use. Walking around the house in socks or slippers with smooth soles increases the chance of a fall. Put on good supportive shoes with non-skid soles every day.
2. Prevent Falls with Home Safety Measures
There are a number of changes you can make at home to help prevent falls. Here are some tips:
- Place items like lamps and alarm clocks near the bed.
- Keep your telephone or cellphone near the bed too.
The bathroom may be the smallest room in the house, but it’s also the most dangerous. Getting out of the shower is a common source of trouble across all age groups, and getting on and off the toilet leads to a high amount of injuries among the 65 and older set. In the bathroom:
- Install grab bars by the toilet.
- Install grab bars in the tub and shower where you enter and exit.
Throughout the House
- Make sure there’s adequate lighting so any trip hazards will be visible and walkways are clear.
- Run electric cords and other wires along walls and keep them away from traffic paths.
- Keep all carpets and area rugs firmly tacked down to the floor.
- If you have a pet, stay aware of them so they don’t get under your feet and trip you. Our four-legged friends unintentionally cause thousands of fall injuries each year.
- Keep furniture arranged in such a way that there are clear paths for you to walk. Low coffee tables are a common tripping hazard.
- When you need to reach something high up, don’t stand on a chair or stool to reach it. Purchase a “reach stick” and use it to grab items that are further away than arm’s length. Use a step stool with caution and never when you are alone.
- Get a medical alert system. These are often small buttons you wear on a chain around your neck.
When you press the button, it will alert an emergency help service. This is invaluable if you’ve fallen and are unable to get up to phone for help.
- Fall detection pendants – Some medical alert companies offer fall detection pendants (Click here to compare systems with fall alert feature). Fall detection alert technology is built into the wearable help button. It features sensors that can detect falls. When a person wearing a fall detection pendant experiences a fall, the call for help is made automatically. There is no need to physically press the help button in this situation.
There’s no need to let a fear of falling place limits on your activities. By taking care of your overall health and reducing potential trip hazards at home, you can prevent most falls and lead a full and productive life.