Every 11 seconds, an older adult is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury. Falls among older adults can cause serious injury or disability and they are the leading cause of injury death among those 65 and older. But falling does not need to be a normal part of aging.
Here are simple steps you can take to protect yourself or a loved one from a fall.
Find a good balance and exercise program. There’s a common misconception that muscle strength and flexibility can’t be regained. While we do lose muscle as we age, exercise can partially restore strength, balance and flexibility. It’s never too late to start an exercise program, especially one designed for older adults.
Talk to your health care provider. Ensure that you are taking advantage of all the preventative benefits now offered under Medicare, such as the Annual Wellness visit. Ask for a fall risk assessment and share your history of recent falls, dizziness or balance issues. Holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking or having difficulty walking or arising from a chair are all signs it might be time to see a physical therapist, which your health care provider can refer you to. A trained physical therapist can help improve balance and gait or provide guidance on how to use aids like a walker or cane.
Regularly review your medications. If you or a loved one is having a hard time keeping track of medicines or is experiencing side effects like dizziness, it is important to discuss this with a doctor or pharmacist and review medications each time there is a new prescription. Beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids – including painkillers with “PM” in their names. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness. Your doctor can suggest safer alternatives to reduce your risk of falling.
Get your vision and hearing checked annually. Your eyes and ears are key to keeping you on your feet. It’s important to update your eyeglasses with a current prescription. Tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun to a darkened building. Be sure to stop and give your lenses time to adjust. Bifocals can also be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious.
Keep your home safe. Many falls are caused by common hazards in the home that are easy to fix. Remove tripping hazards such as throw rugs, wires, cords and objects on the floors. Increase lighting especially at the top and bottom of the stairs. Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet, use non-skid shower mats or consider a shower chair and hand-held shower.
Talk to your family members. Enlist their support in taking these steps to stay safe. Falls are not just a seniors’ issue and being open with loved ones will help keep you safe.
Northwest Colorado Health is committed to empowering all older adults to reduce their risk of falls. The Aging Well program offers evidence-based fitness classes, taught by certified instructors to help keep you safe and independent as long as possible. The Community Health Centers accept Medicare, and offer discounted services for those who do not have insurance, ensuring quality, affordable primary care for all. Additionally, Home Health Services are available to support your physical therapy needs to assist with fall prevention when recommended by a doctor. To learn more about these services please call 970-824-8233 or visit northwestcoloradohealth.org.