(Adapted from the National Council of the Aging)
Did you know that one in four older Americans falls every year? Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.
The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented.
Accept that it can happen to you: Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt—even if they’ve already fallen in the past. Read Debunking the Myths of Older Adult Falls. If falling, dizziness, or balance are issues, discuss it with health care providers who can assess their risk and suggest programs or services that could help.
Review current health conditions: Having trouble remembering to take medications? Any side effects? Is it getting more difficult to do things formerly done easily? Are you taking advantage of all the preventive benefits now offered under Medicare, such as the Annual Wellness visit?.
When was your last eye checkup? If you wear glasses, make sure it’s a current prescription and that you’re using the glasses as advised by the eye doctor. Remember that using tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings and homes. A simple strategy is to change glasses upon entry or stop until the lenses adjust. Bifocals also can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious. For those already struggling with low vision, consult with a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of your eyesight.
How’s your mobility? If you are holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking or have difficulty walking or arising from a chair…it’s time to see a physical therapist (PT). A trained physical therapist can help improve balance, strength, and gait through exercise. You might need a cane or walker—the Pt can provide guidance on how to use these aids. Make sure to follow their advice. Poorly fit aids actually can increase the risk of falling.
Check your meds: Having a hard time keeping track of medicines? Experiencing side effects? Time to talk to your doctor and pharmacist and have medications reviewed each time you get a new prescription. Remember non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids—including painkillers with “PM” in their names can lead to balance issues and dizziness.
Do a walk-through safety assessment: There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer. For professional assistance, consult an Occupational Therapist. Here are some examples:
Lighting: Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs. Ensure that lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night.
Stairs: Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.
Bathrooms: Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. Make sure they’re installed where you’d actually use them. Consider using a shower chair and hand-held shower.
For more ideas on how to make the home safer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a home assessment checklist in multiple languages. NCOA, the Administration on Aging, and the CDC also promote a variety of community-based programs, like A Matter of Balance, Stepping On, and Tai Chi, that can help older adults learn how to reduce their risk of falling. Contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out what’s available in your area.