Many of us either know someone who has fallen or has fallen themselves, but did you know that 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 65 falls every year? Falls are the leading cause of injury – fatal and non-fatal – and are significant regardless of age. Falling is an inevitable part of aging and deserves attention to raise awareness and improve safety, particularly during this time of the year when snow and ice are forecasted.
The body’s natural reaction to falling is to initiate its protective mechanisms known as “reflexes.” As the aging process evolves, reflexes change and unavoidably slow down; however, there are other influences over slowing reflexes including changes in muscle mass and body fat, bone density, vision, certain medications, and alcohol.
There are many ways to prevent falls and simple modifications can be established within your lifestyle:
- Eat a nutritious diet with adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D
- Know your medications (including over-the-counter and supplements) and possible side effects
- Perform a specific home exercise program consisting of stretching, strengthening and weight bearing several times per week
- Smoking cessation
- Wear sensible footwear – consider low heels and not wearing slippers, stockings or socks alone – nonskid soles provide added traction
- Keep rooms and walkways free of clutter and obstacles including newspapers, boxes, electrical cords and phone cords
- Remove throw rugs or make sure they are either tacked to the floor or have skid-proof backing
- Make sure stairs and hallways are well-lit with nightlights and consider using flashlights where necessary
- Use a cane or walker on uneven or slippery surfaces
- Install railings in stairways to provide stability
- Use nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower, consider using a shower chair to sit while bathing, and place grab bars in appropriate areas in/around the bathtub or shower
Consider asking your primary care provider for a referral to Virginia Gay Therapy for physical (PT) and occupational (OT) therapy to address your falls. PT can assess your risk of falls and develop an individualized activity plan to improve your gait, strength, balance and coordination. OT can perform an in-home assessment, if necessary, to identify any safety hazards and assist you in brainstorming several fall prevention strategies to establish – some are relatively inexpensive and some may require larger investments – to remain living as independently as possible in your own home.
Molly Gardemann, COTA/L, CLT
Virginia Gay Hospital