Falls are one of the main causes of injury and loss of independence in people ages 65 and older. There are many reasons why people fall. Experts agree that some falls in older adults can be prevented. These are some of the causes and ways to help avoid falls from them:
- Joint degeneration One of the most common causes of falls, particularly as we get older, is wear and tear in our joints. Within every joint are little receptors which help you to control your balance. These little receptors are constantly talking to your brain, telling you what positions your joints are in. As joints start to degenerate, these receptors are affected and so this feedback mechanism that your body is so reliant upon is inhibited. Consequently, your body becomes more and more reliant upon your muscles to compensate for this loss. Keep your bones strong. Talk to your doctor to be sure you are getting enough vitamin D and calcium.
- Muscular weakness Without your muscles your skeleton would not be able to stand up. Weak muscles reduce your ability to stay upright and react to other factors such as uneven surfaces and unexpected obstacles.
- Dizziness can be caused by various things that may include a sudden drop in blood pressure, inner ear problems or medication side effects. It is important to see your GP to have this assessed to understand the cause. Also make your GP aware if you start to notice any of your symptoms worsening. If you tend to feel lightheaded when you stand up quickly, take the time to get up slowly from your bed or chair. When you wake up, it may help to sit up first and count slowly to 10 before you try to stand up. And after you stand up, stay still for a few seconds before you move.
- Visual and Hearing problems Get your eyes and hearing checked. If you have trouble seeing and hearing, you might not be able to avoid objects that make you lose your balance.
- Confusion Those with confusion may find it harder to react to hazards or comprehend a safe or unsafe environment. It may be advised that an individual have close supervision and an assessment of their safety in order to ensure they are not exposed to unnecessary harm.
- Medications Know the side effects of the medicines that you take. Some medications may cause the symptoms mentioned above such as dizziness, muscular weakness, confusion and visual problems to name a few. Ask your GP about the potential side effects of your medication so that you are better prepared if you do experience any, and better informed should you need to return to your prescriber.
What can I do?
Use an aid Don’t be afraid to use an aid. A lot of people will look at walking sticks or frames as a backwards step. The reality is these aids will keep you on your feet for longer. If you are starting to feel more and more vulnerable, an aid can provide you with the stability and confidence you need to be able to continue going to the shops, your job or even just about the house.
Exercise is important to strengthen your muscles and to train your balance. There are very basic yet effective exercises that you can do at home. Tie them into other activities you already do such as watching television, making toast, or brushing your teeth.
Challenges Vary the challenges and exercises you do. Your body adapts quickly to tasks, so make sure you change the exercises and balance drills you do regularly to ensure you are still challenged.
Make sure your environment is safe
You can make some simple changes in your home and in the way you do some daily activities to reduce your risk of falling.
In your home:
- Remove things that you can trip over, such as raised doorway thresholds, throw rugs, and clutter. Repair loose carpet or raised areas in the floor.
- Move furniture and electrical cables out of walking paths.
- Use non-slip floor wax and wipe up spills right away.
- If you use a walker or cane, put rubber tips on it. If you use crutches, clean the bottoms of them regularly with an abrasive pad, such as steel wool.
- Keep your house well lit, especially stairways, porches, and outside walkways. Use night-lights in areas such as hallways and bathrooms. Add extra light switches or use remote switches (such as switches that go on or off when you clap your hands) to make it easier to turn lights on if you have to get up during the night.
- Put sturdy handrails on stairways. Make sure you have a light at the top and bottom of the stairs. Don’t leave items on the steps. Fix loose, broken, or uneven steps. Mark the areas around stairways and ramps with paint or tape, preferably with a high-contrast colour.
- If you live in an area that gets snow and ice in the winter, have a family member or friend sprinkle salt or sand on slippery steps and sidewalks.
During your daily activities:
- Store household items on lower shelves so that you do not have to climb or reach high. Or use a reaching device that you can buy at a medical supply store. If you have to climb for something, use a step stool with handrails.
- Do not try to carry too many things at the same time. Have a place near your door where you can place packages and groceries while you close the door and get ready to put things away.
- Wear low-heeled shoes that fit well and give your feet good support. Use footwear with nonslip soles. Check the heels and soles of your shoes for wear. Repair or replace worn heels or soles. Avoid wearing slippers that are loose or don’t cover your whole foot.
- Do not wear socks without shoes on smooth floors.
- If you live alone, think about wearing an alert device that will bring help in case you fall and can’t get up. Or carry a cordless or cell phone with you from room to room. Then you can quickly call for help if you need it.
- Set up a plan to make contact once a day with a family member or friend. Have one person who knows where you are.
- Learn how to get up from a fall. Try this when you have someone with you. If you can get up alone, practice this often enough to feel comfortable. If you can’t get up by yourself, see a physiotherapist for help.
- If you wear bifocal or trifocal glasses, you may have problems as you step off curbs or climb stairs. See about getting glasses with a single prescription that you can wear when you walk.
- Find out about 24-hour drugstores and grocery stores near you that can take orders over the telephone and make deliveries to your home. Use these services, especially when the weather is bad.
- If you have pets, keep them in one place at night. Train your pets not to jump or get underfoot. Think about buying a collar with a bell for your pet so you will know when your pet is nearby.
Prevent falls in the bathroom:
- Install grab handles and nonslip mats inside and outside your shower or tub.
- Use shower chairs and bath benches.
- Get into a tub or shower by putting the weaker leg in first. Get out of a tub or shower with your strong side first.
- Use a long-handled brush or mittens with straps to help with bathing.
Healthwise: Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise Incorporated.