Let’s face it: As we age, our reflexes are no longer lightening-quick. Our bones become more fragile. Our eyes just might be playing tricks on us. These factors can lead to the likelihood of a serious tumble. And falls can cost us — not only in terms of treatment, but in terms of independence and even our lives.
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So who’s more at risk for a tumble?
It’s important to know whether or not you or a loved one might be at risk of falls, says geriatric clinical nurse specialist Anne Vanderbilt, MSN, CNP, CNS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 4 older people falls each year. This doubles the chances of falling again. And fewer than half of these people tell their physician.
People over age 65, having four or more of these risk factors increases your risk of falling:
- A history of falls.
- Chronic disease.
- Taking more than four medications.
- An acute illness.
Other significant risk factors are:
- Lower body weakness.
- Vitamin D deficiency.
- Walking or balance issues.
- Use of some medicines (such as sedatives or antidepressants).
- Vision problems.
- Foot pain or poor footwear.
- Home hazards such as uneven steps or rugs and clutter.
Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. If you see yourself in the above lists, make some changes and be sure to get your annual health screenings.
How to reduce your risk
Don’t let fear of falling cramp your lifestyle. Use these tips to stay safely upright, Vanderbilt suggests:
- Check your meds. Taking four or more medications ups your chance of falling down. This includes over-the-counter medicines. Talk to your doctor to see if any can be safely eliminated.
- See the eye doctor annually. Wearing specs that aren’t up to snuff is a factor in falls among the elderly. A yearly eye exam will reveal whether your prescription — or your glasses — needs adjusting. Don’t delay having your cataracts removed.
- Outfit those feet. Most seniors know to skip the heels. But bare-footing it or staying in stockings or socks at home also increases your risk of falls. Look for non-skid footwear, including slipper socks with non-skid treads on the bottom.
- Work out. Incorporate exercises that make your legs stronger and work on your balance. Tai chi is a good example.
- Lean on me. Better to use a cane or walker than to lose your balance. Put pride aside so that you can get around safely.
- A family affair. A strong social network of family and/or friends means fewer falls. If you’re feeling isolated, reach out. Maybe someone is waiting to hear from you!
Preventing a fall is your best bet for remaining active and independent as you age.
Tips for making your home safer
Fall-proofing your home is also a must to avoid sudden spills:
- Clear your path of clutter such as shoes, books and newspapers.
- Get rid of throw rugs or tack them down with two-sided tape.
- Keep things you often use easily accessible.
- Add grab bars and secure mats to bathrooms, tubs and showers. Install handrails on stairwells.
- Let there be light — use brighter lights with less shadows to boost safety.
Take an active role in preventing falls to help ensure your own safety. Knowing if you are at risk is the first step.