Falling is a risk that increases as you grow older, and it doesn’t just happen on an icy sidewalk in the winter – it’s a year-round concern. That’s because getting older can make it harder to walk steadily and keep your balance.
6 out of every 10 falls occur in people’s homes. Falls are the most common cause of injury for seniors and a fall can often lead to hospitalization, chronic pain and even fractures However, the fear of falling shouldn’t stop you from remaining active. Staying physically active is actually important to maintain your strength, balance and prevent falls and there are many ways you can reduce your risk of falling and fall-related injuries.
Risk factors for falls
Several things can increase the risk of a fall and the risk of falling increases with the number of risk factors, including:
- Balance issues
- Difficulty walking
- Decreased muscle strength
- Visual impairment
- An unsafe or unfamiliar setting (for example, a room with rugs or furniture that might trip you, or an area you don’t know well)
- being over age 80
- cognitive impairment
- blood pressure that drops too low when you get up from lying down or sitting
How to prevent falls
Here are some strategies that can help reduce your risk of falling:
- Make your home safe – Get rid of things that might make you trip or slip. This might include furniture, electrical cords, clutter, and loose rugs. Keep your home well-lit so that you can easily see where you are going. Avoid storing things in high places so you don’t have to reach or climb.
- Wear sturdy shoes that fit well – Wearing shoes with high heels or slippery soles, or shoes that are too loose, can lead to falls. Walking around in bare feet, or only socks, can also increase your risk of falling.
- Take vitamin D pills – Taking vitamin D might lower the risk of falls in older people. This is because vitamin D helps make bones and muscles stronger. Your health care provider can talk to you about whether you should take extra vitamin D, and how much.
- Stay active – Exercising on a regular basis can help lower your risk of falling. It might also help prevent you from getting hurt if you do fall. It is best to do a few different activities that help with both strength and balance. There are many kinds of exercise that can be safe for older people. These include walking, swimming, yoga and Tai Chi (a Chinese martial art that involves slow, gentle movements).
- Use a cane, walker, and other safety devices – If your health care provider recommends that you use a cane or walker, be sure that it’s the right size and you know how to use it. There are other devices that might help you avoid falling, too. These include grab bars or a sturdy seat for the shower, non-slip bath mats, and hand rails or treads for the stairs to prevent slipping.
- Have your eyes and hearing checked – Even small changes in sight and hearing may cause you to fall. It may take time to get used to new glasses or contact lenses. Always wear your glasses or contacts when you need them. If you have a hearing aid, be sure it fits well and wear it.
- Pay attention to wet or icy surfaces – Have sand or salt spread on icy areas by your front or back door.
- Limit alcohol consumption – Even a small amount of alcohol can affect your balance and reflexes. Studies have shown that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.
- Stand up slowly – Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop and make you feel wobbly. Get your blood pressure checked when lying and standing.
- Consider getting a personal emergency response system – If you worry that you could fall, there are also alarm buttons that let you call for help if you fall and can’t get up
What to do if you fall
If you fall, be sure to see your health care provider, even if you aren’t hurt. Your doctor or nurse practitioner can try to figure out what caused you to fall, and how likely you are to fall again. He or she will do an exam and talk to you about your health problems, medications, and activities. Then he or she can suggest things you can do to avoid falling again.