Using the first day of the Fall season to promote awareness of National Falls Prevention Awareness Week (Sept. 21-25) is a clever and important concept. While past advertising campaigns have turned the plaintive plea of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” into a bit of a joke, falls remain the leading cause of injury for people age 65 and older. An estimated 1-in-4 older adults fall every year in the U.S. – that’s about 36 million calls.
For seniors, falls can threaten their safety and independence and potentially lead to medical care and lengthy rehabilitation.
But there are simple things – lifestyle changes, housing/furniture assessments and just increased awareness that can help. Most organizations associated with fall prevention will say this: Falling is not a normal part of aging. So, what can you do for yourself, or for a loved one, to help reduce and prevent falls? Here are a few options:
- Exercise – Find a good routine that helps you build strength, flexibility, and balance. Many senior yoga programs, Tai Chi, or aqua-exercise routines can help if more aerobic exercise isn’t possible.
- Manage your medications – Make sure there are no side effects associated with your prescription medications. Take your medications only as prescribed and be careful when starting a new medication.
- Have your vision checked – People with vision problems are more than twice as likely to fall as those without visual impairment. It’s important for safety to make sure your vision is good, and you may also want to check your hearing
- Make your living environment safe – More than half of all falls take place in a person’s home. Make sure to inspect your home for fall risks. You can use it as an excuse to de-clutter. Consider removing throw rugs and improving your lighting. You may want to add some grab bars in the bathroom and make sure any handrails in the home are sturdy.
- Watch what you’re wearing – Make sure you are wearing sturdy shoes or sandals. Flimsy footwear may make balance a problem or create a slip-hazard. Also, if you’re having foot or toe pain, you may have trouble walking. Be sure to consult your physician.
Because falling is not a “normal part of aging,” the National Council on Aging has a simple 12-question survey to help you determine the most common fall risk factors in your life. It can be found at www.ncoa.org/FallsFreeCheckUp
You may wonder why it’s even important to consider all this. While many falls do not cause injury, there is the chance of suffering a broken bone (wrist, hip, pelvis, collarbone) or a head injury. If that occurs, your ability to do everyday tasks, even something as simple as taking a shower or cooking, could be severely impacted.
Don’t be afraid to use simple tools or “tricks” to make sure you don’t fall into your home. Consider using a long-handled “reach” tool to pick up things from the floor, or get smaller packages off your doorstep. Also, if you tend to use a walker or cane, be sure to use it around your home, not just when you’re going elsewhere. Instead of carrying things in your hands (which could unbalance you) consider getting a basket on your walker, or use the seat to move things from room-to-room.
Consider looking into videos and tip sheets at the National Council on Aging. You’ll find ideas such as creating a mobility plan or find recommendations about staying active and healthy. All of these ideas can help keep you upright and aging in a healthy way.