8 Tips on How to Prevent Falls

October 22, 2018

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As we age, our bodies undergo changes. Many people develop health conditions that affect their mobility or the structure of tissues, and some have to take medications which have a negative impact on coordination or have side effects, such as dizziness.

There are many factors that contribute to the risk of falls, but the rule of thumb is the older you get, the more likely you are to fall. It is not that seniors are less concerned about moving carefully – conversely, they are usually more cautious – but they often suffer from diseases that prevent them from being able to keep their balance.

Falls can occur anywhere – from the seeming safety of your own home to railway stations. In different countries, the locations where falls are most likely to happen differ mostly due to cultural differences. For example, as far as stairs are concerned, the Japanese do not mind using stairs in public places, like hotels and shopping centers, while Americans cannot imagine a building without elevators – provided it’s a normal building. That is why in the U.S. people fall while going downstairs or upstairs (the latter is way less frequent than the former) predominantly at home, which is the only place where they have to use stairs on a daily basis. In Japan, statistics is more diverse.

Why is it dangerous?

The reason why falls are especially dangerous in the elderly is that they are prone to injuries that take much longer to heal, and in some cases such fractures cannot heal at all. Hip fracture is an injury dreaded by many a senior, as having it at an advanced age invariably leads to disability. If there is no one to help you get to a hospital fast, the risk of dying right there or shortly after being admitted to a healthcare facility increases.

Besides hip fracture, there are other risks associated with falling. Edges of furniture are another thing that poses a threat, because hitting your head on such an object results in extremely dangerous, deadly injuries. It gets even more dangerous if a person is taking medications for blood thinning, such as warfarin, which causes blood to escape the body faster.

Mental issues that arise from falling are also a matter of great account. A person who has fallen once will be afraid of falling again, which increases the risk of depression, anxiety and other conditions of the kind.

Some statistics

As seen from the examples above, falls are by no means a trifle. In the UK, about a third of those aged 65 or older fall at least once a year; among those aged 85 or older, the figure rises to around 50%. Every year, more than a million fall-related accidents happen, with a quarter of them leading to serious health problems.

On this side of the pond, the figures are just as alarming. In the U.S., 1 out of 4 seniors fall no less frequently than once a year, with one in five ending up in a hospital with bone fractures or head injuries. Around 3 million people fall and have to seek medical attention in an emergency department every year, and 800,000 of them are subject to further hospitalization.

 

Image credit: cdc.gov

You cannot avoid falling completely, but you can reduce the risk of such accidents by doing the following.

#1. Consult a professional

Consult your doctor to have your risk of falling evaluated. If you take medications, let him or her know you are worried about falling, as some of them may cause dizziness or have other adverse effects which can contribute to the risk. Perhaps, your doctor will make adjustments to your medication regimen to counter the effects. Besides, you may be prescribed vitamin D supplements, provided your healthcare provider finds it appropriate. Make sure to tell your doctor all the details about your previous falls – when and where it happened, what caused it, etc.

#2. Exercise regularly

Seniors generally fail to maintain a decent level of physical activity, which further advances progression of their diseases, such as arthritis and other health conditions. Staying active can help you improve your balance and manage not to fall when you lose it unexpectedly. Another type of exercise that is extremely beneficial in the elderly is strength training, which enables one to make extremities stronger and thus reduce the risk of falling. Exercises that improve flexibility are another aspect of recommended training.

#3. Monitor your eye health

Have your vision checked at least once a year to ensure your eyeglasses are just the ones you need. Some lens types can distort the environment and make object seem to be farther or closer than in reality, which is especially dangerous when you are doing downstairs or approaching an obstacle. Among these are progressive and bifocal lenses. The same applies to your hearing: if it is impaired, you may fail to notice something that may result in a fall.

#4. Make your home a safer place

It is impossible to make it 100% safe, but improving your indoor and outdoor environment can help you avoid injuries if you slip or trip over something.

  • Remove any objects in the way. Let there be fewer opportunities for things to interfere with your movement: remove anything from the stair, and put all tools and other items you do not need now in a room where you do not spend time often.
  • Install grab bars in the bathroom: there should be several of them, one next to the toilet, one inside the tub, one outside it, and in other areas where you find appropriate.
  • Install railings on the stair. They should be on both sides of it – including the wall side.
  • Install light bulbs that provide bright light: all rooms should be well-lit to prevent tripping over objects and help you see the floor better. Purchase night lights and install them in rooms where you spend more time than in others (bedroom, hallways, bathroom, etc.). Install two switches to light your stair: one for cases when you want to go downstairs, and another one for going upstairs.
  • Electrical cords are very easy to trip over. Hide them in boxes or ask your younger relatives to install special panels to hide all the cords behind them.
  • Remove plant stands or place them in a corner where the traffic is low.
  • Loose rugs should be secured with a tape to prevent falling after tripping over their corners. The same is true of loose carpeting, wooden floorboards, and other materials used for finishing.
  • Consider obtaining non-slip mats. These are of great help in bathrooms where the floor is often slippery. Place one special mat in your tub. A bath seat is another option, which makes taking a shower easier.
  • In case of spilling something that makes the floor slippery (liquid, food, mud, etc.), clean it immediately.
  • If you have pets, be careful with the mess they can make, such as spilled water, urine, toys scattered all over the house, etc. Dirty paws can also make the floor dangerous.
  • Purchase a cordless phone.

#5. Stand up slowly

Orthostatic hypotension is a common problem. If you stand up too fast, you may feel wobbly due to a sudden drop in blood pressure. Stand up slowly – including when you are in a tub. Monitor your blood pressure and consult a doctor if some readings are abnormal.

#6. Cut down on alcohol

Indulging in alcohol can result in impaired balance, so drink wisely.

#7. Obtain assistive devices

Canes and walkers are the most popular assistive devices. Consult a professional to help you find a model that fits your needs, and teach you how to use them. Make sure it is of the right size, and the wheels are functioning the way they are supposed to. Consider installing a raised toilet seat.

#8. Wear the right shoes

Rubber shoes can help prevent falling. Try wearing shoes with soles of different thickness to find the ones you find most comfortable. Wear shoes with low heels that support the feet. Avoid walking barefoot or wearing only socks when using stairs.

Prevention of falls is of utmost importance both in terms of risks associated with it and in terms of the costs of treatment, which are usually very high. Most cases of hip fracture call for hip joint replacement, and such surgeries can be a significant financial burden. Follow the advice above and do not skip health exams. For more information on how to keep your bones healthy, visit this page.

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