According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, each year over two million older adults are treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries; one in every three individuals age 65 or older falls.
Falls are the leading cause of injury in older adults, resulting in everything from bruises, cuts & sprains to head injuries and even death. Most fractures are the result of a fall. Even if the fall does not result in physical injury, it may leave the individual with a fear of falling, which may cause him or her to restrict activity level. Less activity means a gradual weakening of muscle and bone, creating a loss of physical fitness, which is more likely to result in falling and injury.
The good news is that there are several things you can do to prevent falls and limit the likelihood of injury in case you do fall.
1. The number one item is exercise. Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. And with stronger bone & muscle, a potential fall is likely to cause less damage. With your doctor’s OK, consider activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi — a gentle exercise that involves slow, graceful movements. These activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility
2. Wear sensible shoes with non-skid soles and avoid walking around in your stocking feet. High heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble and fall.
3. Some medications—or combinations of medicines—can have side effects that cause dizziness or drowsiness which may make falling more likely. Be sure to have your doctor or pharmacist review your medications so that you will be well informed of possible interactions that could create balance problems.
4. Poor vision can make it harder to get around safely. Recognize that aging eyes need more light to see, so dimly lit rooms can become hazardous. It’s a good idea to have regular eye exams to be sure your prescription is right for your eyes.
· Keep your home brightly lit to avoid tripping on objects that are hard to see.
· Place night lights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways.
· Turn on the lights before going up or down stairs.
· Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages.
5. Eliminate hazards at home. Since about half of all falls happen at home, a home safety check can help identify potential fall hazards.
· Remove things you can trip over from stairs and other places where you walk.
· Install handrails and lights on all staircases.
· Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping.
· Keep items you use often in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool.
· Put grab bars inside and next to the tub or shower and next to your toilet.
· Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
6. Consider use of assistive devices to keep you safe from falls.
· A cane or walker will keep you steady when on the move.
· Hand rails for both sides of stairways give you extra support for navigating steps.
· Put nonslip treads on any bare-wood steps.
One third of those two million older adults who are treated for falls end up being hospitalized. For those who have fractured bones, it may be necessary to convalesce in a nursing home. The time, effort and expense you put into implementing the above suggestions will pay dividends in keeping you living independently and safe from injury.