What’s up with falling down?
Falling, and the fear of falling, is right at the top of a ‘Worry List’ for older adults – and here’s why
More than one third of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States
Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma
However there is also GOOD NEWS…
Despite what society in general, and even older adults in particular, think, AGING IN AND OF ITSELF IS NOT THE CAUSE OF FALLING!
Research also tells us that Strength and Balance exercises are the two most important contributions to staying upright! In my research programs I have seen major improvements in strength and balance in as little as 6 weeks!
Today I want to provide some insight into these ‘fall factors’ and then provide some options for improving them so that you don’t stumble into those fall statistics (See what I did there?)
What are my risks of falling?
Fall risks are typically separated into two main categories, some of which may come as a surprise to you – and some less so! Regardless, the take home message of today’s post is that many of these risk factors are within your capability to improve!
Extrinsic Risks. These are things related to where you live. For example, poor lighting at home, slippery rugs, poorly fitting shoes, bathtubs, showers and slippery floors, lack of handrails….
Intrinsic Risks. These are things related to you. For example, age, gender, lack of strength and/or activity, poor gait and balance, type of medications you take, visual impairments
FallProof Your Life!
So – Let’s hit the highlights of increasing our ability and our confidence to stay upright
… get strong, stay strong. As we stated above, Strength is perhaps the biggest factor enabling you to stay on your feet. Read my Strength Training 101 post for more information on how to design your own program
… stay balanced. Together with Strength, Balance makes up the ‘Dynamic Duo’ of preventing falls. Most clinicians put these at the top of their ‘Prevention’ list. Check out this link to SeniorHealth.gov with some great advice on improving balance.
… be more active. Being active throughout the day can actually maintain your balance, coordination and endurance – and even keep it at higher levels! This also has links to the first two points above, since stronger people also tend to be more active. Read my 7 Habits post for more information on the importance of staying active
… remove or stabilize home hazards. This especially includes ‘clutter’, loose carpets, slippery floors or anything that blocks high traffic areas. Click on the following link for a comprehensive list of ways to ‘Fall proof’ your home
… wear sensible shoes. Properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles are ideal. Shoes with fabric fasteners are easier to put on and remove. Here’s a great link to the Mayo Clinic on choosing shoes that will get you up and out there!
… light up your living space. Keep your home brightly lit. Place a lamp near your bed and within reach so that you can use it if you get up at night. Click on the following link for more ‘enlightening’ information on home hazards
… use assistive devices in your home. Some typical examples include grab bars in showers or baths, raised toilet seats and handrails on stairs. Scroll down to the bottom of this great link that can ‘assist’ you with more information on easy home installations to prevent falls
… be more active. Being active throughout the day can actually maintain your balance, coordination and endurance – and even keep it at higher levels! This also has links to the first two points above, since stronger people also tend to be more active. Read my 7 Habits post for more information on the importance of staying active … use walking aids if needed. Typical examples include canes, walkers or rollators. Scroll down to the bottom of this great link for information ‘aid’ on devices to prevent falls
BY THE WAY, some older adults have told me that they do not like to use walking aids because they think it will make them more dependent. Nothing could be further from the truth! These devices can be very important in helping to maintain or improve mobility if they are fitted or prescribed by a qualified therapist.
AND THERE’S MORE! As you work to get stronger you are far less likely to continue to need or use these devices!
Here’s a great story to illustrate this benefit. Several years ago, I was running a community based strength training program in Tempe, AZ. One of the members, Albert, (who was 92 at the time) started to come to class. Three times a week he would slowly make his way to our exercise room pushing his walker in front of him. We always know he was coming because we would hear the legs of his walker squeaking along the vinyl floor of the corridor. After several weeks he started telling us how much stronger he felt. Several weeks after this he appeared at the door of the classroom accompanied by one of his friends – BUT NO WALKER! You can just imagine how this made him feel – and how it made all of us feel too! He said “I just wanted to see if I could do it without the walker”. From that day onward he always came to class under his own – ‘self generated’ – power!
NOTE: Other things such as vision, chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis, stroke and medications can also have a major impact on the risk of falling. Your physician is the best person to talk to about these issues and how they may affect you and your lifestyle. Today’s post has focused on explaining broader risk factors and offering a number of simple options both for yourself and your home that will prevent and/or reduce your risk of falling.
Question: How do you know you are at risk for falling?
Here are 5 important questions to consider
- Have you fallen or come close to falling in the last 6 months?
- Do you stay at home more because you are worried about falling?
- Do you feel less steady on your feet now than in the past?
- Has your strength noticeably decreased in the last several years?
- Do you take 4 or more medications on a regular basis?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, your next step (no pun intended!) should be to request that your doctor refer you to a physical therapist for a Fall Risk Assessment.
Be part of the conversation – record your thoughts on this post in the comments box below – or ask a question of your own
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