As we get older, physical changes and health conditions, and sometimes the medications used to treat those conditions, can make falls more likely. In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury and death for older Americans and threaten seniors’ safety and independence. Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,700 deaths. A fear of falling does not have to rule you, or your loved one’s life. The Mayo Clinic recommends six different fall-prevention strategies to help keep you safe at home.
Make an appointment with your Primary Care Provider (PCP). Your PCP can look at your current prescriptions as well as any over-the-counter medications you are taking for potential side effects that may increase your risk of falling. Let your provider know if you have fallen before and the details around that event. Specific information can help your provider identify fall-prevention strategies. Your provider can also evaluate your muscle strength, balance, and walking style to ensure there aren’t any health conditions that could increase your risk of falls.
Keep moving. Physical activities like walking and gentle exercise reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility. If you are afraid physical activity will make a fall more likely, let your provider know and they may recommend physical therapy. A physical therapist can create a custom exercise program to improve your strength, balance, and flexibility.
Wear sensible shoes. Heels, floppy slippers, and slick soled shoes can make you slip, stumble, and fall. Instead, wear sturdy shoes with a nonskid sole that fit properly.
Remove home hazards. Look around your home for any hazards that may cause you to slip, trip, or fall. To make your home safer:
Remove cords, boxes, and paper from walkways.
Move items like tables and stands from high-traffic areas.
Repaid loose floorboards and carpeting.
Store everyday ideas like clothing, dishes, and food within easy reach.
Immediately clean any spilled liquids, grease, or food.
Use nonslip mats in areas like your bathtub or shower and if necessary, use a bath seat to allow you to sit while showering.
Keep your living space well lit. By keeping your home brightly lit, you can avoid tripping on hard to see objects. Use night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways and have a lamp next to your bed. Always turn on the lights before going up or down stairs.
Use assistive devices. Your provider may recommend using a cane or walker to keep you steady. There are other assistive devices that can help too. For example, you can install handrails in stairways, nonslip treads for bare wood steps, grab bars for the shower or tub, or a raised toilet seat.
If you are unsure where to start in making your home safer, your provider can give you a referral to an occupational therapist. Helen Newberry Joy Hospital Occupational Therapist, Jen Lusk, can assist you with solutions that could be easily installed and relatively inexpensive in your home to lessen the risk of falling. She can also help you brainstorm different fall prevention strategies you could use to stay safe. For more information about occupational therapy, or to schedule an appointment, call 293.9231.