7 Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Falls
It’s probably not something you’ve thought much about – how to prevent a fall. But with each passing year, knowing how to stop a fall or prevent one from happening in the first place becomes increasingly important.
The danger of falls
Falls are dangerous for a variety of reasons. Falls in general have a higher likelihood of causing illness and death because of the risk of fractures, specifically hip fractures. A third of the patients who suffer a hip fracture don’t recover back to their full health after those injuries.
According to the CDC, one out of five falls in a person over age 65 causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. More than 800,000 patients are hospitalized each year because of a fall injury, most of them to the head or hip. We also see a lot of upper extremity fractures because people try to catch themselves in a fall.
Your chances of falling
Like it or not, your chances of falling increase as you get older. About half the falls older people have are due to accidents, while others are health related. As we age, our reflexes tend to slow, hearing and vision decline, and there is less coordination and muscle strength. Add to that the side effects caused by multiple medications, trip hazards in the home and weakened bones due to osteoporosis, and a fall could be both imminent and deadly.
Decreasing your risk
So what can you do to decrease your fall risk?
- Add exercise to your day. A sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for a fall.
As you age you lose muscle mass, regardless of how strong you are. Working out slows that process. In order to maintain your strength you have to do some sort of exercise.
- Practicing Tai Chi or even going for a walk are wonderful ways to reinforce your balance system. Exercising 15 minutes a day is really good for both your body and your brain.
- Ditch the throw rugs. Throw rugs create the easiest hazard to trip and fall in your own home. If you have an area where you absolutely must use a throw rug, tape down the edges with a highly contrasting color.
- Cut the clutter. You don’t have to be a hoarder to have a lot of clutter, and many people are resistant to have family members help clear stuff out. But if it’s creating a trip hazard, it’s time to get rid of those things that are no longer a necessity. While you’re at it, tuck loose cords away and move furniture out of walkways.
- Improve safety in the bathroom. One of the riskiest and most frequent places to fall is in the bathroom. Decrease your chances for a devastating fall by installing grab bars near the toilet and in the shower or bath, and add grips to your shower or bathtub floor to make it less slippery. Use nonskid mats or carpets on floor surfaces that may get wet and wipe up any wet surfaces immediately.
- Take your time getting up. Another place for frequent falls is in the bedroom. Why? That lightheaded feeling many of us get waking up to use the restroom at night.
Our blood vessels get stiffer as we age. As we go from lying to sitting to standing, gravity wants to pull blood down into our feet. Our blood vessels have to squeeze and get it back to our head, and that doesn’t work as well as we get older and so it takes longer.
Instead of leaping out of bed and moving quickly to the bathroom, sit on the edge of the bed and count to five, then stand up and count to five before you start walking.
- Put a little light on the subject. Bad lighting and aging eyesight don’t mix. Add extra lighting where needed and illuminate any tip hazards in your home.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications. Anyone taking more than four medications – prescription or over-the-counter – is at an increased risk for falls. Those medications could affect your blood pressure or balance, and may have side effects that can cause dizziness or lightheadedness, putting you at risk.
Safety and evaluation
It’s also a great idea to have a cell phone or Lifeline® medical alert pendant on you at all times in your home. The highest risks for poor recovery or death are for those who lie helpless on the floor for hours following a serious injury. Whether you believe your injury is serious or slight, be sure to get medical treatment following any fall.
If you need help evaluating your fall risk, a team of specialists at the Methodist Hospital Geriatric Evaluation and Management Clinic can assist you and your family members in reviewing your personal safety and risk for falls at home.