By Dr. Nancy Swayze
Chief of Skilled Nursing Facilities
All it takes is just a simple slip or misstep to suffer a fall. When you are younger, taking a tumble may not have a big effect on your health, but as you age, falls can become a lot more serious. Among those 65 and older, falls are the number one cause of injury and death from injury. Approximately one out of four older adults will fall each year in the United States.
Unfortunately, as we get older we are more likely to lose our balance and fall. In fact, more than one out of four people age 65 or older fall each year. This is due to physiological changes that occur, including slowed reflexes, loss of muscle tone and strength, a stiffer less-coordinated gait, loss of hearing and poorer eyesight.
If you are a senior, it’s important to take measures 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). Strengthening muscles after a minor fall can help prevent more significant injury from another fall. This can start with physical and occupational therapy and transition to an ongoing personal exercise programs to maintain mobility. Your doctor can also help chose appropriate short-term pain medications since some of the over-the-counter-pain medications can exacerbate chronic illness and interact with prescribed medications.
Many older people avoid being physically active to lessen their chance of falling. This is not a good idea as it can lead to a loss of muscle tone and balance, which ultimately increases the risk of a fall. Appropriate use of a cane, crutches, rolling walker or other device can help maximize independence while your body heals even without a serious injury like a broken bone.
Here are some tips to help prevent falls:
- Make your home safer by removing loose throw rugs and other objects you could trip over. Fix any broken or uneven steps.
- Wear flat-soled shoes that fit well.
- Exercise regularly to strengthen your muscles and improve your balance.
- Keep your living space brightly lit to avoid stepping on something that could cause a fall.
- Add handrails to stairs and hallways if you don’t already have them.
- Have your doctor review your medications for side effects that could affect balance.
- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.
- Have your eyes checked regularly and update your eyeglasses if needed.
- 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.
- Keep items you need within reach so you don’t have to use a stepstool
Thoughtful, personalized fall prevention is one of the best things you can do to protect your health and independence. Remember that 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.
Finally, if you have fallen once, consider some type of device that you can always reach from the floor to call for help if you can’t get up. Unfortunately, many people are unable to reach a phone or a medical alert necklace from the location they fell and can spend hours on the floor before they are helped.
About Nancy Swayze, MD – Chief of Skilled Nursing Facilities
Geriatricians are doctors who specialize in the medical care of patients over the age of 65. At Reliant Medical Group, our geriatricians work inside nursing homes (also known as skilled nursing facilities) helping to provide care for our older patients. Geriatricians are experts at dealing with arthritis, osteoporosis, mobility issues, memory loss and other problems that can affect the elderly. They can also help seniors deal with the...View profile View posts by this doctor
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