A wet floor, the corner of a rug, a stray dog toy - it doesn't take much to cause a fall. When you were young, a fall may have caused a bruise or scrape. As you get older, however, falls become more dangerous. They can even be life-threatening.
Falls can happen anytime and anywhere, and they usually cause injury to your head, shoulder, forearms, spine, pelvis, or hip. Unfortunately, the fall itself isn't always the end of the story. Injuries lead to hospitalizations, decreased independence, and sometimes, the need to move into a nursing home or rehabilitation facility.
Susan Pizzi, MS, RN,
Community Health Education Coordinator
"As we get older, our bones become weaker and more likely to break. So, even if your fall isn't severe, you can still get seriously injured," says Susan Pizzi, MS, RN, community health education coordinator at Chester County Hospital.
Your bones can weaken due to family history, drops in estrogen and testosterone, or simply getting older. No matter the cause, a broken bone for an older adult can be life-changing.
What Causes Older Adults to Fall?
You may be at higher risk of falling if you have:
- Eyesight, hearing, or vision problems
- Impaired balance caused by conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes
- Medications that make you tired or dizzy
- Muscle weakness
- Lack of balance or coordination
- Foot pain
- Confusion or are in unfamiliar environments
- Alcohol in your system
Fall Prevention in 4 Simple Steps
Some falls may be a result of your own personal risk factors. Other times, safety hazards around the home, such as slippery floors or poor lighting, are the culprits - usually during normal activities, such as cooking or walking up the stairs.
Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent falls. Simple lifestyle changes and home modifications can keep you or someone you love safe.
Here are 4 ways to prevent falls simply and effectively.
1. Keep an eye on your health.
Maintaining your health is important throughout your life, but it becomes even more necessary as you get older. "Your body is changing - and so do the requirements to stay healthy and safe. It only takes a small change in your health to increase your risk of a fall, and regular examinations can help you understand those changes," adds Pizzi.
Ways to monitor your health include:
- Seeing your health care provider for an annual physical, which includes an evaluation for heart and blood pressure problems
- Having your eyes and hearing tested - and making sure you wear your glasses or hearing aid if necessary
- Informing your doctor if you have fallen since your last visit, even if it didn't lead to a serious injury
Falls can be dangerous because they may cause bones to break, especially your hips. Your bones naturally lose some strength as you get older, but there are ways to maintain your bone health to keep them as strong as possible, such as eating a healthy diet full of vitamin D and calcium and not smoking.
Your body requires extra care as you get older. In order to keep it safe, you will need to be more conscious of what's going on in your body so you can prevent any potential problems.
2. Know your meds.
Age tends to come with more health conditions - and a fuller medicine cabinet. It's important to keep track of what medications you are taking as well as how they might impact your ability to get around safely.
Ways to prevent falling due to your medication include:
- Keeping a record of all of the medications you are currently taking (prescribed and over-the-counter), and bringing it with you to any health care providers you visit
- Knowing the side effects of your medications, such as fatigue or confusion, that could cause a fall
- Labeling all of your medications so you know exactly what you are taking each time
- Taking your medications as instructed, which may be at a certain time of day or with a full glass of water
3. Get fit.
You know the benefits of exercise - maintaining a healthy weight, lowering your blood pressure, even keeping your mind sharp. For most of your life, you may have incorporated fitness into your routine for one or more of those reasons. As you get older, there are some extra benefits of exercise, including reducing your risk of falling.
Exercise makes your muscles strong and your ligaments flexible, which can prevent falls and lower your chance of injury if you do fall. Physical activity also improves your agility, balance, and coordination - all of which lower your risk of falling.
Some activities can keep your bones strong and slow down bone loss from osteoporosis, such as:
- Climbing stairs
- Weight training
Talk to your health care provider about an exercise program or routine that works for you. Regular exercise is important at all ages - but you'll benefit from it now more than ever.
4. Be extra careful.
You probably know your home like the back of your hand. Though it hasn't changed, your body has. Fortunately, there are many simple ways to mind your surroundings and remain careful to reduce your risk of a fall, including:
- Wearing shoes that fit properly and have nonskid soles - and making sure your shoelaces are tied
- Being extra careful on wet or icy surfaces, and use salt or sand on icy areas
- Standing up slowly to keep your blood pressure from dropping quickly and making you feel dizzy
- Avoiding drinking too much alcohol, which can reduce your ability to balance and react to your surroundings
- Using an assistive device if necessary, such as a cane or a walker
It can be hard to admit that you need to be more careful around your own home or that you need extra assistance. However, it's certainly easier - and safer - than recovering from a serious injury from a fall.
5. Make simple changes in your home.
Your home should be a safe haven where you can relax and feel comfortable - not a place where you're always concerned about falling. However, most older adults fall in their own homes. Fortunately, you have control over how you set up your home, and simple safety modifications can reduce your risk of falls.
You can make your home safer with some simple changes, such as:
- Keep the high traffic areas clear of clutter, low furniture, and cords
- Install proper lighting, especially next to your bed, on your way to the bathroom, and in stairwells
- Buy furniture that is easy to get in and out of, especially your bed and chairs
- Repair any loose floorboards right away
- Remove rugs or mats that may be easy to trip on
- Clean up any spills on the floor immediately
- Put frequently used items in easy-to-reach locations
- Avoid standing on chairs or boxes to get to higher cabinets
- Install handrails along the entire length of your stairwell, which should be 30 inches above the stairs and run the entire length of the stairs
- Placing a non-slip rug next to your bathtub
- Installing bars in your shower or using a plastic seat in the bathtub
Small changes can go a long way to keeping your home safe. Take it one room at a time - and remember how much you are reducing your risk of a serious injury with each change.
If You Do Fall, Don't Panic
If you happen to fall, the most important thing is to remain calm. Don't panic, and try to determine if you are injured. Trying to get up too quickly or in the wrong way can make an injury worse.
Carefully slide or crawl to the nearest stable piece of furniture to get up. If this is too difficult, try to get to a phone to call 9-1-1 or a trusted family member or friend. You may want to consider wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace in order to notify someone if you fall.
Getting older comes with many benefits, but it also comes with the need to be more careful with your body. Preparation is key to preventing injury from a fall - and these small changes are an easy way to start.
Still have questions about preventing falls? Call 610-738-2300 to find a primary care physician near you. You can also learn more about Chester County Hospital's Fall Prevention Program: A Matter of Balance. Classes are held at different times throughout the year.
Related Information from Chester County Hospital: