7 Tips to Help You Avoid Falls
Falls can be deadly, especially as we age. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older Americans, leading to at least 30,000 deaths among people older than 65 every year. In addition, the risk of falls increases with age and is greater for women than for men. Over half of seniors ages 80 and older fall every year.
This is why our primary care doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach will monitor our older patients for signs of balance issues, as well as other problems that can contribute to falls.
Everyone falls from time to time, but as we’ve seen, it’s more common—and more dangerous—for older adults.
Older people are more likely to have impaired vision, dizziness, and other such health issues and a lack of the strength and agility to find their feet once they lose their balance.
Even something as common as lined bifocals can interfere with spatial perception, leading to difficulty in seeing where to step, and triggering falls.
And of course, many older Americans take medications for sleep disorders, anxiety, high blood pressure, or chronic pain. Side effects from these drugs can impact the way a person feels or thinks and can cause drowsiness, loss of balance, changes in vision, slower reaction time, and other effects that increase the risk of falling.
Another often-overlooked possibility is simple dehydration, whether from illness, warmer weather, or just neglecting to drink liquids as often as the body needs.
“In my experience, many people who faint and fall are dehydrated,” Barbara White, executive director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University at Long Beach, told Consumer Reports recently.
Environmental solutions to avoid falls
There are several things you can change and arrange in your environment to avoid falls.
- Clear up clutter
Survey your home for tripping triggers and unsafe areas. Keep things off the floor, use double-sided tape to secure throw rugs, and ensure cords and cables are out of the way. If you have animals that tend to get in your way as you walk, be especially aware of them. Dogs and even cats can be trained to heel or respond to simple commands.
- Get assistance
Install handrails on both sides of staircases, and add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower. Don’t be embarrassed to use a cane or walker if we recommend one for you. They’re better than falling.
- Lighten up
Aging can affect the ability to see well in the dark. So add sufficient lighting throughout the home to aid in visual perception, including nightlights in every room, especially the bedroom, hallway, and bathroom.
Physical solutions to avoid falls
- Have your eyes checked
Falls occur more frequently among seniors who have vision issues. Have your eyes checked at least once a year, and update your glasses to ensure optimal vision. Ask your optometrist whether no-line bifocals might be right for you.
- Drink up
As we age, we tend not to drink as much because our thirst sensation naturally declines. Such medications as diuretics and laxatives can contribute to the problem. Dehydration can lead to low blood pressure, which in turn can cause dizziness that results in a fall.
Drink at least six to eight glasses of water every day. Bonus tip: You’ll know you’re drinking enough if your urine is light yellow or clear.
- Improve your balance
Perform strength and balance exercises to improve your muscle tone and increase your balance. Tai Chi, a gentle routine of slow-motion exercises, has been shown in numerous studies to not only increase balance but to decrease dizziness, a common cause of falls. Other exercises that improve stability and balance include yoga, bicycling, walking, and water workouts.
The National Council on Aging has a list of evidence-based fall prevention programs that can help reduce the risk of falling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sponsors the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, & Injuries (STEADI) program to provide information about falls prevention, motor vehicle safety, and patient and caregiver resources.
- Talk to us
Finally, let us know about all prescriptions, over-the-counter (OTC), and supplements you take. Especially with the latter, you may think they’re harmless, but all such substances carry a risk of side effects.
Even if you’ve taken them before with no problems, our bodies change the way we metabolize drugs as we age. Therefore, you may develop new side effects that can contribute to falls.
We can help you determine whether any of these might impair your balance.