Aging Options

Reduce Your Risk of a Dangerous Fall with These Simple Steps

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You don’t have to be frail to be at risk of falling. You don’t have to be housebound. You don’t have to be a senior who relies on a walker or a cane. No matter who you are, if you’re an older adult, the risk of falling is something you have to take seriously. That’s because a fall can create long-term damage to your health. It can even kill you.

If that sounds dire, it should. As this recent article from the Associated Press reminds us, the experience of a sudden fall will affect 25 percent of older Americans each year.  Data from the CDC tells us that falls killed nearly 39,000 65-plus adults in 2021, and the trend line is steadily increasing.

The Associated Press article was written by reporter Devi Shastri. We’ve covered the topic of falls several times before here on the Blog. Still, with so many seniors affected, we determined this is worth a frequent reminder to seniors and their families of the danger of falling. Fortunately, as Shastri shows, most falls are preventable, with some common-sense precautions.

Risk of Falling Can Include a Range of Severe Injuries

Shastri begins with the stark reminder that falls are a growing public health concern as more and more Americans—a record number—are turning 65, and one in four older adults in the U.S. will fall each year. These falls may range in intensity but, at their worst, they can bring the risk of injury, broken bones, and even death.

“But common as falls may be, they are not inevitable,” Shastri reminds us.

Cara McDermott, who researches falls at Duke University School of Medicine, agrees: “The more work we do, the more we realize that that healthy aging doesn’t have to include falling.”

Shastri provides the following recommendations to reduce your risk of this often-preventable problem. We hope seniors and their loved ones will take these suggestions to heart.

Risk of Falling: Safety Begins at Home

Home is where we live the bulk of our lives, especially as we age. That means that our houses should be our first area of priority in fall prevention. The good news is that a lot of the fixes don’t have to be complicated or expensive.

First, Shastri recommends certain easy, low-impact changes, like removing small area rugs, changing out dim lighting, and putting your most-used tools and objects—like pots and pans—in easy-to-reach places.

Next, it’s advised to look around your home and pinpoint places where you are most likely to lose your balance, then add extra stability and safeguards in those places. Kitchens, bathrooms, and stairs are usually highest on the list. “Install railings on both sides of the stairs, a grab bar in a bathroom and no-slip strips on wood or tile floors,” Shastri writes.

A Tidy Home Can Be a Safer Home

A little extra attention to keeping your place tidy doesn’t hurt either. Make sure to pick up items left on the floor; keep walkways, stairways, and halls especially clear; and clean up spills before they dry. Even a tiny bit of moisture on a bare floor can send your feet flying.

If you need a little extra stability when walking, consider using a cane or walker. But Shastri advises that you need to make sure that any mobility aids you choose are right for your height and that you know how to use them properly, to avoid the tool itself becoming a hazard.

There’s excellent advice on fall safety available online for seniors and their families. “The National Institute on Aging has a full guide on its website with tips on how to fall-proof your home, room by room,” Shastri adds.

Exercise Builds Strength, Improves Balance, Cuts Risk

One of the best preventions for falls is to keep your body flexible and strong. Shastri writes, “Go back to the basics with Newton’s first law: A body in motion stays in motion. That is, staying active can help prevent future issues — even if you’ve fallen before and are worried that it might happen again.”

Even if you have limited mobility, there are many exercises that can help prevent falls, such as chair yoga, tai chi, and simple walking. McDermott says, “It doesn’t mean that you have to go out and start running marathons or anything like that, but simply (do) functional exercises.”

Exercise can be made even more fun—and add a crucial social element—by doing it with others in a group setting or playing with grandchildren or pets. “The key: Know your limits and do what your doctor says is right for you,” Shastri writes.

Be Sure You Know the Side Effects of Any Medications You Take

Another lesser-known element in fall prevention is recognizing the side effects of your medications. Many common medications can cause light-headedness, sleepiness, muscle weakness, or other symptoms that can impair your mobility and balance.

McDermott advises that older adults talk openly with their primary care physicians about their medications and how those medications might work together in combination. A primary care doctor or a pharmacist can see the whole tapestry of your meds and help you to find a combination that works best for you, while also keeping you safe from harmful side effects.

But don’t simply decide to change up your prescriptions without proper medical advice. McDermott adds, “I would never, ever recommend that somebody discontinue a medication without talking to their prescriber first.”

Don’t Overlook Regular Health Care Screenings

As we age, we naturally experience changes in our hearing, vision, and other senses that can only exacerbate the issue of mobility. Shastri recommends having your hearing and vision tested regularly, and making sure to use relevant aids if available and appropriate.

“Bone health matters, too,” she writes. “The Mayo Clinic estimates 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, which weakens the bones and makes it more likely to break something when you fall.” Broken bones can create a cascade of related medical conditions that often make healing difficult and slow, if not impossible.

Along with exercise, as previously advised, and a healthy diet, Shastri recommends taking Vitamin D and calcium to help improve bone health. If needed, a doctor can test your bone density and recommend any further treatment.

Preventing Falls Means Managing Multiple Risks

Shastri concludes her article with the recognition that avoiding falls does mean being aware of many risks of various types, which can feel daunting. But the suggestions she provided are an easy way to limit the most common types of falls.

And, she adds that it’s important to let your doctor know as soon as possible if you do have a fall, even if it seems like “no big deal” at the time. “A fall can have wide-reaching implications and you’ll want to address the root cause to keep it from becoming a pattern,” she writes.

The trick to avoiding a potentially life-ruining fall can be as simple as noticing the small things that can get in your way and trip you up. All it takes is one fall to do serious and even permanent damage, so be wise, and communicate with your physician early and often.

“Maybe it is a one-time thing, but get it checked out anyway,” McDermott says.

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(originally reported at https://apnews.com)

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