“FALL” a four letter word!
Falling: Why does it matter?
As we age, falls can become a serious threat to our health. In fact, research shows that repetitive falling places an older person at a higher risk of hospitalization, bone fracture, further disability and death. Despite these statistics, there are considerable steps you can take to prevent this occurrence! Fortunately, about two thirds of falls can be prevented with proper safety precautions, environmental adaptations, exercise, and health monitoring. This blog post will discuss five steps for assessing your risk factors for falling, and preventative steps to take to decrease your risk.
Number 1: Home Hazards
Take a look around! One third of falls are a result of an environmental hazard in the home. The most common hazard is tripping over an obstacle on the floor, but there are plenty of other steps you can take within the home to make it safer.
- Remove loose throw rugs, cords, newspapers and clutter from floors
- Maintain a clear pathway to furniture and doorways, making sure that there is plenty of room for an assistive device (such as a walker) if needed.
- Install night lights in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways
- Store clothing, dishes, food, and frequently used items within easy reach, invest in an assistive reacher device if needed.
- Use non-skid strips or rubberized mat in the shower or bath to prevent slipping
- Install grab bars near toilet or in shower
- Have an occupational therapist perform a home safety evaluation
Number 2: Footwear
Properly fitting shoes are essential to maintaining balance and contribute to a safe walking pattern. Anything with a heel, floppy back, or very thick soles can increase your risk of falling. Avoid high heels, flip flops, and backless slippers or shoes. Ideally, try to find shoes that you can lace up with sturdy, thinner, non-slip soles. Regularly see your podiatrist to ensure that your feet are well taken care of.
Number 3: Vision
Age-related vision diseases can increase the risk of falling. Cataracts and glaucoma alter depth perception, visual acuity, peripheral vision and susceptibility to glare. This can hinder the ability to safely negotiate around the home. Below are some vision-related tips to keep you safe!
- If you wear bifocals, practice looking straight ahead and lowering the head, instead of just moving the eyes to look down, as this can alter depth perception
- Use color contrast to balance aids like grab bars (one option is brightly colored tape you can find at the dollar store!)
- Add contrasting color or reflective strips to first and last steps, or in areas where elevation changes in the home
- Clean eye glasses regularly
Number 4: Medication
Next time you see your physician, bring along a full medication list and have it reviewed from a perspective of fall prevention. Do this periodically and whenever there is a change in medication. Sedatives, anti-depressants, blood pressure medication and psychotropic drugs can contribute to falls by reducing mental alertness, altering balance, and causing drops in systolic blood pressure while standing. Also, those taking more than four medications have a higher risk of falls. It is important to know the common side effects of your medication and openly communicate with pharmacist and doctor. Lastly, be aware of potential need for physical therapy evaluation for walking aids while on certain medications.
Number 5: Exercise!
There is strong evidence of the benefits of exercise as fall prevention. Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased strength, loss of bone mass, and decreased balance. Targeted balance and mobility exercises are most effective at reducing fall risk, such as the classes offered by FOX Exercise physiologists at the Mansions. You can also inquire about a balance assessment by a Physical Therapist.
By employing these recommendations you can decrease your risk of falling and promote a healthier lifestyle. Remember, falling does not have to be a normal part of aging!
Yours in health,
Caroline Hill, OTR/L
FOL Rehab Director, Mansions at Decatur