All it takes just a simple slip or misstep to suffer from a fall. It’s one thing to take a tumble when you are young, but once you are older, falls become a lot more serious. In fact, more than 2.5 million older U.S. adults were treated for falls in emergency departments in 2013. Many of those treated had to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, among older adults, falls are the number one cause of loss of independence and death from injury.
Why are falls more likely as we get older? Although none of us like to admit it, we are all impacted from certain physiological effects as we age including slowed reflexes, loss of muscle tone and strength, a stiffer less-coordinated gait, and poorer eyesight. This is why injuries from falls start rising at the age of 18 and peak at approximately age 75.
As we get older, it’s important to take steps to prevent falls. Here’s a simple test you can do at home to check your balance (always have someone assist you for safety). Stand on one leg behind a chair without holding on. Normal balance on one leg is approximately one minute. If you cannot remain stable for at least 30 seconds, you need help with your balance. Keep in mind that balance can be affected by a number of things, from medications to inner ear problems. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor if you think your balance is deteriorating or if you suffer from a fall (even if you are unhurt).
Even the fear of falling can become a problem as we age. Many older people curb their physical activities to lessen their chance of falling. This can lead to a loss of muscle tone and balance which increases the risk of a fall. “Limiting your activities because of the risk of a fall is not a good idea,” remarked Dr. Jeffery Burl, Chair of Geriatrics at Reliant Medical Group. “I would rather see people use a cane or even a walker in order to be safer so they can get the amount of exercise they need. A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of falls.”
Now that we know more about why falls happen, here are some tips to help prevent them:
- Exercise to strengthen your muscles and improve your balance
- Make your home safer by removing loose throw rugs
- Always wear flat-soled shoes that fit well
- Have your doctor review your medications for side effects that could affect balance
- Add handrails to stairs and hallways if you don’t already have them
- Use a walking aid, such as a cane, if you need one
- Consider grab bars for the shower or tub, and a raised toilet seat if needed
For those 65 and older, one of the best things you can do to protect your health is preventing yourself from falling. And remember, it’s always important to let your physician or other caregiver know if you have even a minor fall since they can help you reduce your future risk. Always be alert for falls!