Falling is not a normal part of aging, and most falls can be prevented. By knowing and managing your risk factors, you can live a full and active life free of the fear of falling.
Involve your family in your quest to be falls-free. Taking action to prevent falls and maintain your independence is something to be proud of. By asking your family's help, you'll also be teaching them prevention techniques they'll use throughout their lives.
Stay Active and Healthy to Prevent Falls
- Simple exercise, like walking or swimming at least 15 minutes a day can help build muscle strength and improve balance, which can prevent falls.*
- Find a good balance and exercise program, like tai chi, to build balance, strength, and flexibility. Select a program you like and take a friend.*
- Talk to your health care provider and ask for an assessment of your risk of falling. Share your history of recent falls.
- Regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist for side effects that may increase your risk of falling.
- Get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eyeglasses.
- Slow down and think through the task you are performing. Be mindful of possible falls risks and act accordingly.
- Drink 6-8 glasses of non-alcoholic liquids each day to prevent low blood pressure, fatigue and confusion.
- Eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of vegetables and calcium-rich foods like yogurt, cheese, milk, orange juice, tofu and calcium-fortified cereals to promote your health.
* Consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine or program.
A Matter of Balance is a community-based program that helps individuals learn to manage their falls risk and increase their activity levels without fear of falling.
Around the House
Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults
Falls prevention begins at home. As we age, our bodies change and things that were once appropriate for us may no longer be. By taking a few simple, inexpensive precautions, you can make your home immediately more fall-proof:
- Arrange furniture so you have a clear pathway between rooms.
- Place a lamp, telephone or flashlight near your bed.
- Install a night light along the route between your bedroom and the bathroom.
- Keep electric, appliance and telephone cords out of walkways, but do not put cords under a rug.
- Secure loose area rugs with double-faced tape, tacks, or slip-resistant backing.
- Store food, dishes and cooking equipment within easy reach.
- Repair loose stairway carpeting or wooden boards immediately.
- Do not store items in stairwells or hang things on stair rails.
- Put a bright-colored stripe of durable tape on the front edge of each stair so that you can see them better.
- Place a slip-resistant rug adjacent to the bathtub for safe exit and entry.
- Use a rubber mat or place nonskid adhesive textured strips inside the tub.
These home modifications and assistive devices may cost a little more than the steps above, but could be good investments in keeping your home safe now and in the future:
- Invest in a folding step-stool with a hand rail for access to out-of-reach places.
- Buy a cordless or cellular phone so that you don't have to rush to answer it and so that you'll have it handy to call for help should you fall.
- Add ceiling light fixtures with easy-to-reach switches to rooms that currently are only lit by lamps.
- If you use furniture, like chairs, tables and dressers, to steady yourself as you walk around, invest in a cane or walker instead.
- Install grab bars on bathroom walls near the bathtub, shower and toilet.
- Stabilize yourself on the toilet by using either raised seat or a special toilet seat with armrests.
- Use a sturdy, plastic seat in the bathtub if you cannot lower yourself to the floor of the tub or if you are unsteady.
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairway. Each should be 30 inches above the stairs and extend the full length of the stairs.
- Remove door sills higher than a half inch.
If you are a Medicaid or Medicare recipient, talk with your doctor about the potential benefits of an environmental falls assessment and if you may qualify for one to be conducted by a physical or occupational therapist.
If you aren't able or can't afford to take on these projects, there are many organizations throughout Ohio that may be able to help. Ask your area agency on aging, city or county office on aging, community action center, senior center or local United Way office about available programs in your area.
While our goal is to keep the worst from happening, it's good to be prepared in case it does. Register yourself and your loved ones in the Emergency Contact Information - Next of Kin Program of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles today. It provides first responders with vital information in the event that someone is unable to communicate with them during an emergency.
Manage Medications to Prevent Falls
By adopting and maintaining healthy habits, including an open dialogue with your doctor and pharmacist, you can avoid many risk factors that can lead to a fall and injury. Some prescription medications can increase your risk of falling because they may cause dizziness, drowsiness, numbness or may have other side effects that affect your balance and perception. We've joined with our partners at Ohio's Best Rx to offer these tips to help you reduce your risk of falling due to drug interactions or side effects:
- Maintain a list of all the drugs you take – Include doses, frequency and prescribing doctor. Also include any over-the-counter medicines (pain relievers, antacids, cold medicines, etc.) or supplements you take. Bring the list with you to doctor’s appointments and when you pick up prescriptions.
- Read the label – if it says “may cause dizziness or drowsiness,” or cautions against driving, ask about the best time to take it to avoid falls. Also ask about alternative treatments with less hazardous side effects.
- Take your medicine exactly as prescribed. If you find it hard to stick to a medication schedule or if you have trouble telling medicines apart, your doctor may have some ideas to help. Similarly, ask your doctor to write detailed directions on how and when to take your medications.
- Talk to your doctor about changes to your eating habits (such as a low-fat or high-calcium diet), as well as how much caffeine and alcohol you consume, as these can all affect how your medicines work.
- If you have trouble reading warning labels or directions on your medicine containers, your pharmacist may be able to provide the same information in an easier-to-read format.
- Choose over-the-counter medications that only have the ingredients you need. Your pharmacist can help select the best OTC options for your symptoms.
Print and Go!
Tip Sheet: How Individuals Can Prevent Falls
Tip Sheet: How Family Caregivers Can Prevent Falls
Don't Let Winter Send You Slipping and Tripping
Whether you are taking the "grand-ghouls" out trick-or-treating, or indulging in some adult fun this Halloween season, make sure your "trick-or-treat" doesn't become "TRIP-for-Treat."
- If you'll be accompanying little ones on beggar's night, carry a flashlight and watch for uneven sidewalks, curbs, debris and other tripping hazards.
- Fancy dressing is what Halloween is about, but avoid costumes with long gowns, robes or capes that can snag on objects or get tangled up with your feet.
- Put on a scary face, but avoid masks that limit your peripheral vision and cause you to miss tripping hazards. Use make-up instead.
- That fabulous footwear might be the thing that sets your costume off, but sensible shoes will be less likely to send you tumbling.
- Your costume may fit your personality, but does it fit your body? Too loose, it can cause you to trip. Too tight, it can limit your movement.
- Accessorize for success, but avoid dangling bits of costume that can be tripped on and ensure that props you are carrying won't cause injury if fallen on.
- If you decorate your yard for trick-or-treaters, make sure walkways are far enough from decorations so that visitors don't trip on them, and are free of cords and debris.
- If you're going for that "big scare," make sure the area is level and clear of objects to prevent falls when people react.
- Know how alcohol affects your balance and perception, and drink responsibly.
Winter Falls Prevention
One of the biggest risks from wintry weather is falling, particularly among older adults. Icy conditions make it harder to stay on your feet, and the cold may cause us to limit our activity, which can lead to loss of strength and balance. Here are some tips to help you prevent falls this winter:
- Bundle up to stay warm but make sure you can see in all directions and move easily and freely.
- Wear sturdy shoes or boots with treads, even if you're just going out to get the newspaper. (Submitted by Cindy Hintz, via Facebook)
- Do some light stretching before you venture out; it will make you physically more able to prevent a fall.
- Carry a small bag of salt, sand or kitty litter in your pocket or purse to sprinkle in front of you for traction on icy paths.
- Avoid walking on surfaces that may be icy if you can. If you can't, slow down, shorten your stride, walk with feet pointed out slightly and knees gently bent to improve traction and balance.
- Snow can hide curbs and uneven surfaces. If you can't see where your foot will land, find another way.
- Replace worn rubber tips on canes, walkers and crutches. Ask a mobility equipment dealer about winter canes or cleats you can add to existing equipment.
- Dry off shoes, canes, crutches and walkers as soon as you get indoors. Wet shoes on dry surfaces are just as dangerous as dry shoes on wet surfaces.
- If you are going out alone, carry a cell phone; know who you will call if you fall, and make sure that person knows what to do if you call.
- Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, which can affect your balance as well as how your body responds to medication.
- Ask your doctor or physical therapist about indoor exercises that can help you maintain strength and balance when you can't venture out.
- Wear sunglasses to reduce glare from the sun and snow and ensure that you can see where you are walking.
- Carry a cleaning cloth and stop immediately to clean your glasses if they fog up going from outdoors to indoors.
- Ask your post office, newspaper and garbage collector about service options that might make it safer for you when conditions are bad.
- When in doubt, don't risk it. Ask for help if you don't feel safe doing something.
Advice for Caregivers
A single fall can change someone's life significantly. As a caregiver, you have to find the balance between ensuring your loved one is safe, and her right to make decisions for herself.
Don't let someone you care about become afraid of falling. People who fall (or nearly fall) may develop a fear of falling and modify their behavior in ways that actually increase their risk of falling again, such as becoming less active and changing the way they walk. A Matter of Balance is a free, community-based workshop that can help your loved one (and you) learn to see falls as something that can be controlled.
Talk about falls prevention... often. Many older adults may be reluctant to talk about falling because they see it as a threat to their independence. Bring the topic up frequently with your loved one and be persistent, but respectful. If he says he doesn't want to talk about it, that's OK, but bring the topic up again, soon.
- Assure him that falling is not a normal part of aging and that most falls can be prevented.
- Use tools like the Falls Risk Self-assessment to help him see his health and environment in new ways.
- Share stories of others you know who have fallen, even your own experiences; ask open-ended questions like: "what could she have done to prevent that fall?"
Help your loved one remain physically active. Any type of movement helps, from simply lifting your legs while you watch TV and marching in place in the kitchen, to walking and swimming, to exercise programs like yoga and tai chi.
- Build on activities that she enjoys and talk with her about things she'd like to try.
- Find out about local exercise programs for older adults by contacting your local senior center, community action agency or agency on aging.
- Discuss any new or intensified exercise or activity with a doctor to ensure that the activity is safe and appropriate.
- Ask her doctor about inner-ear conditions and medication side effects.
- Make sure she has her vision checked regularly, that her glasses fit properly and that she wears them when she's active.
- Offer to exercise with her.
Don't ignore chronic pain. Individuals with severe chronic pain are up to 77 percent more likely to fall than those without pain. Pain can cause your loved one to resist activity and exercise. Likewise, some pain medications can make him less stable on his feet.
- Talk with your doctor and your loved one about the pain he experiences and the best ways to treat the underlying causes of the pain.
- Learn strategies for coping with and reducing pain, such as distraction and relaxation exercises, and balancing activity. Healthy U is a program that can help.
Include your loved one in decisions about changes to her home. There are many simple and inexpensive changes that can significantly reduce the risk of slipping, tripping and falling. However, the decision to change her home must be hers. Suggest small changes first (e.g., rugs, night lights) and work your way up to bigger modifications (e.g., grab bars).
Encourage appropriate use of assistive devices. Walkers and canes can help with balance. Folding step stools with hand rails are a far safer alternative to reaching high places than chairs or other furniture. Other devices, such as tools for reaching and grabbing, can keep a loved one from over-extending and losing balance.
Regarding canes and walkers:
- Be sure canes and walkers are the right size and properly adjusted for your loved one (i.e., with the handle at wrist height).
- Regularly check the rubber tips on canes and walkers and replace them if they appear worn, dried out or damaged.
- If your loved one uses a cane or walker while out and about, he should use them to get around the house as well.
Promote good nutrition and hydration. A balanced diet with a variety of vegetables and calcium-rich foods promotes overall general health and minimizes the symptoms of some chronic illnesses. Staying properly hydrated prevents low blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue and confusion.
- Offer a variety of beverage choices, such as different flavorings and various temperatures.
- Encourage your loved one to eat fruits and vegetables that help with hydration, such as watermelon and applesauce.
- Encourage frequent trips to the bathroom or suggest a regular schedule to prevent her from having to go in a hurry.
- Talk with her and her doctor about medical conditions and medications that can cause dehydration or frequent urination.