If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
We can never predict the future, but we can be proactive about the steps to ensure a safe home environment and lifestyle. One of the most common causes of non-fatal injuries and hospital visits for trauma are falls. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce risk and prevent falling.
Falls: myths vs. reality.
According to the National Council on Aging, there are three common myths about falling:
Myth 1: Other people fall, but I won’t.
Reality: One-quarter of seniors fall every year in the U.S. The belief that “it won’t happen to me” is dangerous, because it can happen to anyone. The good news: there are actions you can take to prevent falls. For example, wearing appropriate shoes or keeping throw rugs and other tripping hazards out of your path, are among the ways you can prevent yourself and your older loved ones from falling.
Myth 2: As I age, falling is normal.
Reality: Falling has everything to do with safety precautions and nothing to do with your age. From wearing the proper footwear, to improving strength and balance through exercise, to having your vision checked, all of these actions can reduce your risk of falling.
Myth 3: Taking medication doesn’t increase my risk of falling.
Reality: There are many medications that have side effects that can actually increase the risk for a fall. Some medications make you dizzy or sleepy, which greatly increases your risk of falling. Others may make it difficult to think clearly or make you feel light headed or off balance. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the side effects of the medications you’re taking to understand if they may increase your fall risk.
Preventing fall risks at home.
While accidents happen and falls can occur at any time, there are things you can do around the house to prevent yourself or a loved one from falling. Here are some suggestions of safety measures you can implement throughout the different areas of your home:
- Use non-slip rugs with rubber backing.
- Wrap up loose wires and cords or tape them down to the floor. Keep them out of walkways.
- Make sure walking pathways are clear of excessive furniture.
- Clear floors of items that can cause someone to trip like shoes, magazines, pets, etc.
- Fix loose or uneven steps.
- Install handrails on both sides.
- Attach non-slip rubber tread to steps.
- Increase lighting at the top and bottom of stairs and turn them on when using the stairs.
- Avoid leaving items on the steps.
- Ensure lamps are easy to reach.
- Use night lights.
- Store flashlights near your bed or where you can easily reach them, in case of a power outage.
- Add grab bars next to toilets and inside showers.
- Use a non-slip rubber mat or self-adhesive strips on the floor of the tub and shower.
- Add a raised toilet seat to assist with going from sitting to stand or vise versa.
- Use a shower chair or bench to sit on when taking a shower.
- Keep often-used items in easy-to-reach places.
- Never use a chair as a step stool.
- Wipe up spills immediately.
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall. Learn how you can prevent yourself or a loved one from suffering from a fall on the #LiveWellHealthy blog: https://bit.ly/2JUmh3o.
Other safety measures to decrease the risk of falling.
Review your medicines. Bring all your medicines, vitamins, and supplements to your pharmacist and/or doctor at least once a year and/or when there are changes in your health. Ask about side effects and interactions, especially if you take four or more medicines.
Have your vision checked every year by an eye doctor.
Exercise regularly. Exercise makes you stronger and improves your balance and coordination.
Wear shoes with a rubber bottom. Do not wear shoes with an open back, slippery dress shoes or bare feet. Avoid going barefoot or wearing only socks.
Get up slowly after you sit or lie down.
Make home safety improvements. Reduce clutter, improve lighting in rooms, hallways and stairwells, and install handrails and grab bars.
Do not let pets roam under your feet. Pets are very easy to trip over.
Beware of rugs. Remove all small area rugs. Secure larger rugs with rubber backing.
Purchase assistive devices. Assistive devices, such as a cane, walker or raised toilet seat can improve your balance. Ask your doctor about what type of assistive devices may be best for you.
When to talk to your doctor.
One way to reduce falls is to speak with your doctor about how to reduce your risk. Talk to your doctor if you have experienced one of the following in the last six months:
- A fall, or a near fall (slip or trip)
- Problems with walking or balance
- Muscle weakness (especially in the legs)
- Loss of feeling or numbness in your legs or feet
- Swelling in your ankles or feet
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Dizzy or lightheaded, passed out or fainted
- Changes in hearing or vision
- A fear of falling
- Problems doing daily activities at home, like bathing and getting dressed
Once again, while it may not be possible to ensure you or a loved one never suffer from a fall, it’s important to take preventative steps to minimize the risk of one occurring. Being proactive could be the difference between a serious injury and a minor one, or none at all.