Do you have a fear of falling? Have you had a few close calls over the past year? Are you concerned about slipping during the upcoming Midwest winter season? If you thought about answering yes to any of these questions, a physical therapist can help!
It’s the perfect time for older adults and caregivers to learn more about the risks of falling and ways to take action to prevent future injury.
IMPACT OF FALLS
The impact of falls might be more significant than you may have realized. Let’s look at the facts from the National Council on Aging (NCOA):
- Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans, with 1 in 4 older adults falling each year.
- Every eleven seconds, an older adult visits an emergency room for treatment from a fall. Falls can result in injuries, including hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. Some can be quite serious.
- Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall or related complications.
- More than 2.8 million older adults are treated in emergency departments annually because of a fall, and more than 800,000 hospitalizations result.
Why is falling so common, particularly in adults over the age of 65? Next, we’ll examine falling risk factors.
RISK FACTORS OF FALLING
MUSCLE WEAKNESS, BALANCE, AND GAIT PROBLEMS: As we age, most of us lose some strength, coordination, flexibility, and balance. Decreased activity levels and lower body weakness are the biggest reason for these problems and can lead to a fall.
VISION PROBLEMS: Less light reaches the retina in the aging eye, making it harder to see tripping hazards such as contrasting edges and obstacles
MEDICATION USE: Some prescription and over-the-counter medications have side effects or interactions which can cause dizziness, sleepiness, or dehydration and can increase the risk of falling.
VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY: Low Vitamin D levels can lead to fatigue, muscle pain, and reduced muscle function and strength, increasing fall risk.
ENVIRONMENT: Most older adults have lived in their homes for a long time and may not be aware of simple modifications that can keep their environment safe as they age.
CHRONIC CONDITIONS: More than 90% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like vertigo, diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis. Often these increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or use of multiple medications.
WHAT CAN I DO TO REDUCE MY FALL RISK?
Falling is common, but that doesn’t mean it has to be expected as you get older because falls can be prevented.
Physical therapists can help prevent and reduce the risk of falls through targeted evaluation and identification of your individual needs. Together with the patient, physical therapists can develop a plan to improve strength and balance while addressing safety hazards around the house such as rugs or long electrical cords.
1. IMPROVE YOUR STRENGTH AND BALANCE
A physical therapist can adapt strengthening exercises to your unique needs to improve your balance and keep you steadier on your feet. They will also give you practical tips designed to keep you physically safe such as standing up slowly, navigating stairs, or using assistive devices.
2. GET PLENTY OF REST
Practice good sleep hygiene. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Avoid caffeine, screens, and other stimulants before bed to help you stay asleep. You are more likely to fall when fatigued.
3. CHOOSE YOUR SHOES AND CLOTHING INTENTIONALLY
Wear low-heeled shoes. Supportive shoes with nonskid soles give you a firm footing. It can also improve joint pain, which can reduce your fall risk. Nonskid socks could be another choice if wearing shoes inside is not an option for you.
Also, wear clothing that is comfortable but fits closer to your body. Loose or long clothing can increase your chance of falling because it is more likely to get caught.
4. LIMIT ALCOHOL
Alcohol affects your reflexes making it more difficult to catch yourself if you do start to fall.
5. CONSIDER STAYING HOME IN INCLEMENT WEATHER
In the Midwest, many things can make walking outside slippery! Consider rescheduling outings on days where the ground is slick from snow, ice, rain, or fall leaves.
6. IMPROVE SAFETY IN YOUR HOME
Did you know that six out of ten falls happen in the home? A few modifications can significantly reduce your risk of falling at home. Suggestions include:
- Light up your surroundings: Reduce your fall risk with adequate lighting. Don’t walk in dimly lit areas. Instead, use bright bulbs, flashlights, and nightlights.
- Keep your home free of clutter: Don’t place things on your stairs to bring up later. Reduce or eliminate area rugs on the floor to reduce your chance of tripping on them.
- Add bathroom safety: You can place non-slip stickers on your bathtub and shower floor. Also, add grab bars near toilets and on the inside and outside of your bathtub or shower. Consider installing walk-in tubs or showers.
7. SEE A PHYSICAL THERAPIST
Physical therapists can help prevent and reduce the risk of falls through targeted evaluation and identification of your individual needs.
https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/falls-prevention/preventing-falls-tips-for-older-adults-and-caregivers/take-control-of-your-health-6-steps-to-prevent-a-fall/ – link to form of 6 steps to take to reduce a fall
https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/falls-prevention/falls-prevention-awareness-day/general-resources/infographics-handouts/ – multiple links to fall prevention/awareness handouts