Seven Tips to Prevent Falls
Simply put, a fall can put you at risk of serious injury. As you get older, physical changes and certain health conditions, as well as some of the medications used to treat those conditions, make falls more likely. Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. Each year, one out of three adults, ages 65 and older, falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Still, there’s no reason to let fear of falling rule your life.
“Our job at The Nathaniel Witherell Rehabilitation Center is to get patients who’ve had orthopedic, cardiac, pulmonary, or neurological surgery back on their feet and allow them to return to the activities they were able to enjoy before surgery and rehabilitation,” says Dr. Francis (Frank) X. Walsh, M.D., medical director at The Nathaniel Witherell. “When they get back home, they need to follow some simple fall-prevention strategies which will keep them safe and healthy.”
Here are seven tips from Dr. Walsh:
1. Make an appointment with your doctor
You should begin your fall-prevention planning by making an appointment to see your primary care physician. Discuss any medical conditions you currently have and bring a list of your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and supplements (or bring the medicines with you). Ask your doctor to review all side effects and interactions that might increase your risk of falling. Your doctor may consider weaning you off certain medications — such as sedatives and antidepressants — to prevent falls.
2. Have your vision checked
See your ophthalmologist at least once a year as poor eyesight can dramatically increase your risk of falling.
3. Stay in shape!
Make sure you exercise and maintain a healthy diet. Once you return home from rehab, continue the customized exercise program created by your physical therapist. This will help further improve your balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and gait, and go a long way toward fall prevention. With your doctor’s permission, consider activities such as walking, water workouts, or tai chi, a gentle exercise that involves slow and graceful dance-like movements. If you avoid physical activity because you’re afraid it will make a fall more likely, tell your doctor. He or she may recommend carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physical therapist.
It’s also important to watch what you eat and drink, as a poor diet and dehydration will deplete your strength and energy, and make it hard to move about and do everyday activities. In addition, watch your alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol and smoking decrease bone strength. Alcohol use can also cause unsteadiness and slow reaction times.
4. Wear sensible shoes
One of the easiest things you can do to prevent a fall is to pay attention to what you put on your feet. Avoid high heels, floppy slippers, open-back shoes, and shoes with slick soles, which can lead to stumbles and falls. Refrain from walking around in stocking feet, and wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles
5. Check your home for hazards
Take a good look around your house and remove anything on the floors or rugs that could cause you to trip. This includes shoes, boxes, books, and newspapers that are obstructing your walkways. Also remove coffee tables, magazine racks, and plant stands from highly trafficked areas, and coil/tape electrical and phone cords to the wall so you won’t trip over them (If needed, have an electrician put in another outlet). When it comes to rugs, you can either secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, tacks, or a slip-resistant backing, or you may choose to remove them completely.
Additional tips include repairing loose, wooden floorboards and carpeting; storing dishes, food, clothing, and keeping other necessities within easy reach. Use nonslip mats in your shower or tub, and immediately clean up spills so you don’t slip. Last but certainly not least, keep objects off stairs, and fix loose or uneven steps.
6. Brighten up your living space
Keeping your home well lit will help you avoid tripping on objects that are hard to see. Some helpful and easy tips include: installing nightlights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways; placing a lamp on your nightstand for middle-of-the-night needs; and turning on the lights before going up or down stairs. If you don’t already have overhead lights at the top and bottom of the stairs, have an electrician install them. Also consider getting glow-in-the-dark light switches, and buy a flashlight (or two!) in case there is a power outage.
7. Use assistive devices
In addition to a cane or walker, you might want to consider other assistive devices to help prevent falls. These can range from handrails on both sides of stairways to nonslip treads for bare-wood steps. Other helpful items are: a raised toilet seat or one with armrests, grab bars for the shower or tub, a sturdy plastic seat for the shower or tub, and a hand-held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down.