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Updated onMay. 18, 2022

Fall Prevention Guide

Falls are a common fear in older adults–and for good reason. The consequence of a single slip or trip goes far beyond the initial pain. Falling often decreases one’s overall ability to function. It necessitates hospitalization, surgery, and long-term care. It often leads to social isolation, feelings of helplessness, and a fear of falling again.

The very fear of falling can have a devastating effect on an older adult’s quality of life. It is natural to grow averse to a very painful, unpleasant experience, and someone who has fallen may begin to limit his or her activities. As your body becomes weaker and less agile with age, the fear of falling creates a domino effect of a more sedentary lifestyle and physical atrophy. This, in turn, only makes you more likely to fall. In fact, fear of falling is even a defined geriatric syndrome.

Minimizing Falling Risk

To truly avoid falling, it helps to understand the specific risks in older adults. To walk normally, a human being needs freely moving joints and muscles that contract at the right time with the right strength. Even accurate visual, vibratory, and proprioceptive input is important for a normal gait and balance. However, joints do stiffen, and muscles do weaken over time. Our neurologic feedback will also not remain the same. All these normal changes, along with other risk factors, increases the likelihood of falls.

The strongest independent risks associated with falls are physical weakness, gait and balance impairments, psychoactive medications, and previous falls. As you may imagine, dizziness and visual and cognitive impairment can play a role. Women and all adults over 80 are also more statistically prone to falling. Other factors include depression, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, polypharmacy arthritis, diabetes, and undertreated pain, and polypharmacy (simultaneously using multiple drugs to treat a single issue.)

Senior Fall Prevention

Lifestyle

Fall Prevention And Lifestyle

Get rid of clutter and potential tripping hazards. These include electrical cords, loose throw rugs, clothing, shoes, and anything you might have to bend down or over to reach. Keep your home brightly lit, especially stairways and hallways, placing brighter bulbs where needed. Nightlights are recommended for extra guidance in bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms.

Think about what you’re wearing; loose and baggy clothes can bunch up or drag on the ground, easily tripping you up. And wear shoes—practical shoes. As comfortable as socks or slippers may be, they present an easy slipping risk.

Check in with your doctor and discuss your health conditions and any medications you are taking. Determine if there is a reason or cause for previous or potential falls. Medications have side effects and health issues can lend to periods of dizziness or fatigue.

If you have fallen before, take note of the details—when, where, how, and any circumstances pertaining to the fall. Map out a strategy against any fall potentials in your control.

Moving carefully within your home, even as simple as pausing after you rise from sitting or laying down, will help to regain and maintain your balance.

Lifestyle Tips

Slippers, floppy shoes, heels, and even socked feet can easily lead to a slip, stumble, or fall. Look for proper fitting, supportive shoes with nonskid soles.

Short Steps to Avoiding Slips

Talk with your primary care doctor. Discuss your health conditions and how comfortable you are when you walk. Be honest about any shortness of breath, dizziness, joint pain, or numbness in your feet and legs. Be sure to share your history of falls and where and how you fell or almost fell. In 2010, the American and British geriatrics societies recommended that healthcare providers ask all patients over 65 about previous falls each year. You can help your doctor by preparing a list of your current prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and supplements.

If you have fallen or have experienced gait or balance issues, there are now easy in-office assessments like the Timed Up and Go test. Together, you and your healthcare professional can discuss fall prevention strategies. He or she may also recommend assistive devices or refer you to an occupational therapist.

Talk To Your Ophthalmologist

Go for your eye exam every year and update your lens prescriptions every time. If you have bifocals or progressive lenses, discuss whether to get a pair of glasses with only your distance prescription for outdoor activities.

glasses

Fall-Proof Your Home

Remove cords and other tripping hazards from walkways and secure loose rugs or floorboards. Use nonslip mats in your bathroom and remove low furniture like coffee tables, plant stands and magazine racks from high-traffic areas. Place night lights in bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms, and everywhere you may walk in the dark. Make well-lit, unobscured paths to light switches and consider installing illuminated switches. Make sure that objects like clothes are always easy to reach so you can avoid obstacles.

Lighting

Fall-Proof Your Lifestyle

Sometimes ensuring your future well-being means adjusting your habits even if you are still healthy and fully mobile. Don’t walk in dimly lit rooms or climb furniture or stepladders when no one is around. Avoid excessive drinking and make sure that your diet is adequate in calcium and Vitamin D.

lifestlye

Reduce Your Risk From Head To Toe

Not only do high heels compromise your balance, but floppy slippers and even walking in only your socks can cause you to slip or trip. Put on shoes when you first get up in the morning. Make sure that all your footwear fits properly and offers sturdy support and nonskid soles. Consider taking a favorite pair of shoes to a cobbler to alter for you so you can ensure the perfect fit. The right shoes may even reduce joint pain as an added bonus.

slipper

Don’t Stop Moving

Remaining physically active not only makes you less likely to fall, but it also improves your chance of catching yourself before a fall. Walking, water aerobics, and tai chi can reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. If your physical condition allows, activities like jogging, dancing, hiking, climbing stairs, and weight training can build bone strength and slow progression of osteoporosis.

movement

As you grow older, it’s important to manage your fear of falling as well as your actual risk. That means assessing your likelihood of falls and consciously mapping out prevention strategies. Particularly if you want to age in place at home, a sound safety and wellness plan are great steps to a long, active future in your home.

senior man falling down the stairs

Mobility

How You Can Stay Mobile And Prevent Falls

Regular mobility and exercise help in fall prevention simply by keeping you more limber and more grounded to your surroundings.

In addition to regular exercise, balance exercises assist in keeping your feet firmly on the floor. It’s smart to include balance exercises in your routine at least three days a week, for 10 to 15 minutes per session. Increasing your balance and maintaining a regular exercise routine also builds your confidence in your physical abilities and strength.

Walking aids such as canes and walkers were designed to assist us as we grow older, and often it’s a battle of pride and will before we accept such help. But better to be mobile and healthy than injured and hurting.

Be purposeful in your actions and be aware of your surroundings and where you’re going. Too often falls occur when we are rushing or not paying attention to the path under our feet. Be aware if a floor is wet, if the lighting is dim, if a sidewalk is slick or icy, and the steps in the stairway (and use the handrail if there is one!).

Mobility Tips

Keeping active and mobile can go a long way in avoiding falls. Simple activities such as daily walks, tai chai, or water workouts improve your strength, balance, and coordination.

Facts On Falling

One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or head trauma. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.

Three million older adults are treated annually in emergency departments for fall injuries.

At least 300,000 seniors are hospitalized for hip fractures every year. Over 95% of these hip fractures are caused by falling, with 7% usually by falling sideways.

More than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.

In 2015, the total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs. They are expected to cost the U.S. healthcare system $54.9 billion by 2020.

Falls are a leading cause of injury and death in adults over the age of 65.

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Home Modifications

Home Modifications For Fall Prevention

Home modifications can range from simple DIY fixes, to minor and major renovations in your home. Start by walking through your house with an eagle eye as to what could contribute to a fall.

Floors should be clear of clutter and rugs secured with either tape or non-skid pads. Throw rugs are called that for a reason—throw them away. Tuck away any power/electrical cords that could pose as a tripping hazard.

The bathroom, the most common room for falls and accidents, should have grab bars in the tub, shower, and next to the toilet, as well as non-slip mats in the tub or shower, and on the floors. Consider a shower seat or chair for shower safety.

Items frequently used in the kitchen, especially heavy items, should be stored within easy reach. If you must use a step stool, make sure you have a sturdy stepladder with a safety bar to hold on to.

As previously mentioned, make sure hallways and stairways have adequate, bright lighting, and install nightlight to avoid trips or falls during the night. Timed or remote controlled lights make it easier for seniors to navigate as it get darker, and touch-operated lamps are a better option than a switch that may be difficult to locate much less operate with arthritic fingers.

Handrails, if not already installed in stairway, are a sure safety measure. If your dwelling already has handrails, ensure they are securely fastened.

If you find there are further modifications that require a contractor, be sure to check references, visit the Better Business Bureau, and ask for examples of past projects they’d done.

Home Modification Tips

Make sure rooms, hallways, and stairways have adequate, bright lighting. Place nightlights in the hallway and bathroom.