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Falls Prevention

Preventing Falls in Older Adults

Each year, one in three adults age 65 and older will fall, and many will be injured from those falls. In the Hudson Valley alone, hospital emergency rooms see more injuries from falls than any other type of accident. Because falls can cause broken hips, concussions, and other injuries that can impact your quality of life, we want to help you prevent falls by offering some tips.

Home Safety Precautions for Older Adults

Most falls happen on level surfaces in and around the home in commonly used rooms like the bedroom, living room, and kitchen. To reduce the chances of falling in your home, follow these safety precautions.

  1. Make sure all the paths throughout your home are clear so that you don’t have to walk around furniture. Ask someone to move the furniture if necessary.
  2. Throw rugs can cause you to trip and fall. Remove them or use double-sided tape or a nonslip mat underneath them so they do not slip.
  3. Remove any books, magazines, shoes, towels, clothes, blankets, or other items that might be on the floor and keep them off the floor to prevent tripping on them.
  4. Keep wires and cords to lamps, telephones, and other electric/electronic items out of your path. Have an electrician install another outlet if necessary.
  5. Pick up any items on the stairs and keep the stairs clear.
  6. Make sure your stairway is lighted so that you can see the stairs. If the bulb is out, ask a friend or family member to change the bulb. If you don’t have a light, have an electrician install one for you.
  7. Fix loose or broken steps on your stairway.
  8. Be sure that the carpet or non-slip tread on your stairs is in good repair.
  9. Make sure the handrails on both sides of your stairway are not loose or broken. The rails should be as long as the stairs.
  10. Use brighter bulbs throughout your home, especially in the kitchen, to help you see better.
  11. In the kitchen, move any items that you use often to the cabinets on the lower shelves at waist level. That will make it easier to reach them.
  12. Use a sturdy step stool with a grab bar and rubber feet to reach items up high. Never use a chair as a step stool.
  13. In the bathroom, put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick non-slip strips on the floor of the tub or shower.
  14. Install grab bars near the tub to make it easier to get in and out of the tub.
  15. Install grab bars near the toilet or used a raised toilet seat to help you on and off the toilet.
  16. Use a stool near the tub to help you get in and out without having to climb in and out.
  17. Use a shower stool in the shower if you have trouble standing for long periods of time.
  18. Keep a lamp close to your bed that is easy to reach.
  19. Use a night light to light your path to the bathroom at night.
  20. Get up slowly after you sit or lie down.
  21. Put a phone near the floor in case you fall and can’t get up, or wear an alarm device that can bring help.
  22. Keep pet toys and food/water bowls out of your path and wipe up any spills immediately.
  23. Place a bell on your pet’s collar so you know when he/she is nearby.

For additional tips on ways you can improve your safety within and around your home, please refer to our Home Safety Checklist

Exercise Programs

Exercising is one of the healthiest things you can do. It helps make you strong, improves your physical and mental health, boosts your mood, and can help you keep your independence. To get the most out of an exercise program, try different things that will help improve your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Find things that you like so you’ll be more likely to keep doing them.

  • Endurance exercises include activities that increase your breathing and heart rate for an extended period of time. Start slowly, like a 5- to 10-minute walk, and add a little more time each day. Build up to 30 minutes or more as you get stronger.
  • Strength exercises help keep increase muscle and make everyday tasks like walking up stairs and carrying groceries easier. Start with light resistance and work your way up to two 30-minute strength sessions a week on nonconsecutive days. Here is the chair rise exercise provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/pdf/steadi/chair_rise_exercise.pdf
  • Balance exercises will help improve your balance so you are less likely to fall. There are a number of balance exercise demonstrations on the Internet like standing on one foot, walking heel to toe, and balance walking. Many gyms and senior centers offer classes and training to help improve balance.
  • Flexibility exercises help stretch your muscles and provide you with more freedom of movement. They can be particularly beneficial to people with arthritis by making you more comfortable throughout the day.

For more information on how to get started exercising, exercises to try, and demonstration videos, visit the NIH Senior Health website at http://nihseniorhealth.gov/exerciseforolderadults/healthbenefits/01.html.

Here are some exercises you may want to try:

Walking Tennis Basketball
Bicycling Yoga Jogging
Cycling
(on a sationary bike)
Yard work: raking;
gardening; mowing lawn
Climbing
(stairs/hills)
Dancing Swimming Tai Chi

Check with your physician before you start an exercise program if you have a medical condition, unexplained symptoms, or have not had a physician in a long time.

Medications

Many medications can cause dizziness and drowsiness, which can increase your risk of falling. Make a list of all the medications you take, even over-the-counter medicines and herbs, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to review them for side effects that can make you sleepy or dizzy. Your doctor can help wean you off medications that increase your risk of falling.

Vision 

Poor vision can affect your balance and keep you from seeing tripping and other hazards in your way. Very often vision problems like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration occur slowly over time, and your prescription may have changed. It is important to have routine eye exams - at least every two years - to minimize vision loss and allow you to see better.

Non-Slip, Well-Fitting Shoes

Have your feet measured when you buy shoes. Your shoe size can change over time. Buy proper-fitting non-slip shoes with laces or fabric fasteners and keep them secure on your feet. Avoid slip-on shoes, slippers, and stocking feet, which can increase your chance of falling. Wear shoes both inside and outside of your home.

Osteoporosis & Falls

If you have osteoporosis, you are more likely to break a bone if you fall. That’s because you do not have enough calcium in your bones to keep them strong. Several things can lead to osteoporosis, including aging, not doing enough weight-bearing exercise, low calcium intake in your diet, and smoking or drinking too much alcohol.

In addition to the items listed above, try these tips to improve your osteoporosis:

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, and turnip and collard greens), broccoli, calcium-fortified cereals, sardines, soybeans, orange juice with calcium, baked beans, and figs.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take vitamin D supplements.
  • Don’t smoke.

Fear of Falling

As people get older, many become afraid of falling. They see their friends and neighbors fall and get hurt – or they get hurt by falling – which makes them stop doing things that keep them active. As they do less, their physical strength and balance decline and that makes them more prone to falling.

Talk to your doctor about your fears. He or she can do a fall risk profile and make some recommendations to help keep you safe. You can also follow the recommendations listed here to reduce your chances of falling.

Canes and Other Assistive Devices

Although it is easy just to go to the store and pick up a cane or walker, it is important to choose one that fits you properly and meets your specific needs. It can help support you, increase your confidence, make walking safer, reduce pain, and improve your balance.

Talk to your doctor, occupational therapist, or physical therapist about the right device for you so that you are comfortable and safe.


References

  • “Assistive Devices for Mobility: Benefits and How to Get One.” Fall Prevention Coalition, June, 2010. Web. 30 July 2013.
  • “Benefits of Exercise.” NIHSeniorHealth.gov. National Institutes of Health, n.d. Web. 26 August 2013.
  • “Calcium-Rich Foods.” IOFBoneHealth.org. International Osteoporosis Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 August 2013.
  • “Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005. Web. 30 July 2013.
  • “Fear of Falling Linked to Future Falls in Older People.” Science Daily, Aug. 22, 2010. Web. 31 July 2013.
  • Griffin, R. Morgan. “Myths About Exercise and Older Adults.” WebMD.com. WebMD, October 29, 2012. Web. 26 August 2013.
  • Hausdorff, J.M., D.A. Rios, and H.K. Edelber. Gait variability and fall risk in community–living older adults: a 1–year prospective study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2001; 82(8):1050–6.
  • “Healthy aging – Fall prevention: 6 tips to prevent falls.” Mayo Clinic, June 10, 2010. Web. 30 July 2013.
  • Lord, Stephen R., Catherine Sherrington, and Hylton B. Menz. Falls in older people: Risk factors and strategies for prevention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • “Osteoporosis and Falls.” AAOS.org. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, August 2009. Web. 26 August 2013.
  • “Preventing Falls.” NOF.org. National Osteoporosis Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 August 2013.
  • Stevens, Judy, et. al. Preventing Falls: How to Develop Community-based Fall Prevention Programs for Older Adults.  Atlanta: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2008.
  • Summary of the Updated American Geriatrics Society/British Geriatrics Society Clinical Practice Guideline for Prevention of Falls in Older Persons. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2010. Web. 30 July 2013.
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