Finding balance—What to know about fall prevention

When we’re younger, falling down is seen as a natural part of development. When we’re a little older, falls might be seen as funny. But for seniors, falls are no laughing matter.

As we age, falls become more likely, for a number of reasons. During the aging process, we typically lose some balance and mobility, both of which can contribute to falls.

In fact, falls are the leading cause of both non-fatal and fatal injuries among seniors in the United States. According to the National Coalition on Aging, an older adult is treated in the emergency room after a fall approximately every 11 seconds.

Because of this, fall prevention is important for seniors and their loved ones. Whether you’re a senior yourself or caring for one, there are steps you can take to lower the risk of falling.

Read on for a look at four basic fall prevention steps.

Fall prevention step 1: See a doctor for regular checkups.

While you may not be able to fully protect yourself from the effects of aging when it comes to falls, there are things you can control. For example, certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause side effects or interactions that may make you more likely to become dizzy or fall.

In addition, you should also talk with your doctor if you do fall. Don’t be embarrassed. Instead, tell your doctor details about the fall, including where you were, when it happened and how you fell. He or she might be able to provide suggestions on preventing future falls based on that information.

You should also see your eye doctor regularly, since vision problems can increase your risk of falling. If you require vision correction, it’s important to be sure that your glasses or contact lens prescription is as up-to-date as possible.

For anyone age 55 and older, if a fall occurs, your primary care physician should be notified so that appropriate treatment for low bone density can be implemented in the event of a fracture. This can aid in preventing future factures and improve overall musculoskeletal health.

Fall prevention step 2: Get regular exercise.

Because many falls are the result of decreased balance or mobility, staying active is one key way to help prevent them. Most experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, which averages out to just more than 20 minutes per day.

While any physical activity is good for you, it’s important to get a wide range of exercise. You’ll want to include cardiovascular activity to get your heart pumping, strength training to keep your muscles strong and balance exercises to help maintain your balance.

Fall prevention step 3: Consider your shoes.

This may seem like a silly step, but it’s an important one! Because we get out of balance somewhat as we age, shoes we previously wore may no longer work for us.

When choosing shoes, look for ones that offer plenty of support and have nonskid soles. While shoes like flip-flops may be comfortable, they can greatly increase your risk of falling since you can actually slide out of the shoe easily.

It’s also a good idea to avoid walking around in your home in just your socks, since they can also be slippery.

Fall prevention step 4: Remove hazards in the home.

This one can be a complex challenge, because there are many items in the home that can contribute to a fall. But there are some basic changes you can make to improve your home’s safety.

Take a walk through the home, looking for potential hazards.

Have loose rugs? Either remove them or secure them using double-sided tape or slip-resistant backing.

Is the house cluttered? Clear out wide pathways in every room that make navigating the room easier.

Are phone cords or electrical cords on the floor or stretched across an area of the room? Secure them in a way that they aren’t tripping hazards.

Is the home dim? Add lighting throughout the home to help you find your way around, even in the nighttime.

You can also improve your home’s safety by adding nonslip mats in the bathroom and handrails in the bathroom and on the stairway.

Not sure if you’re doing enough to prevent falls? Talk with your doctor about fall prevention strategies you can implement. Find a doctor here.