As we get older falls seem like an inevitable symptom of aging. They are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans, with 1 in 4 older adults experiencing a fall each year resulting in costly injuries and decreased quality of life. Research has shown that after a person’s first fall, caregivers often experience a greater fear for their loved one’s safety, an increase in depression and their own sense of caregiver responsibility.
Physical changes, health conditions and medications may increase risk of falls, but with the right planning and lifestyle changes, they can be prevented. Here are some tips to help you and your loved ones create a safer environment and prevent future falls:
Meet with your doctor to discuss medication side effects and how any conditions could increase risks of a fall. Your doctor may assess muscle strength, balance and gait to determine fall risk. You can also ask for a referral to an optometrist to receive regular eye exams.
Maintain an active lifestyle that suits your own abilities. This could mean walking on a treadmill or around the neighborhood for 30-minutes a day, or attending a water aerobics class or practicing Tai chi. Experts recommend Tai chi as the most beneficial activity to prevent falls when practiced for 50-hours consistently. It has been shown to increase strength, improve balance, mobility, and flexibility, as well as benefit mental health.
Perform a walk-through of the home to eliminate any potential hazards, especially those in high-traffic areas. These could include: removing any loose or folded rugs; remove boxes, coffee tables, electrical or phone chords in hallways or walking paths; keeping frequently-used items such as medications, clothing, food, and dishware within reach; ensuring lighting is adequate and easy to access throughout the home such as installing night lights in hallways.
Consider taking part in a fall prevention program. Many communities offer them through Area Agencies on Aging, YMCA’s, senior centers, hospitals or health clinics. In Northeast Florida, the Area Health Education Center hosts “A Matter of Balance,” an evidence-based interactive fall prevention and exercise program that reduces fear of falling and increases activity levels of older adults.
Ask your doctor if physical therapy could be the next step in fall prevention. A physical therapist may also recommend assistive devices such as grab bars, walkers or canes to ensure safety within the home. Using any of these devices doesn’t have to mean an older adult is losing independence, instead it’s a step towards maintaining independence and safety by being proactive in preventing falls.
If you don’t know how to start the conversation with your loved one about fall prevention, consider using the Falls Prevention Conversation Guide for Caregivers from the National Council on Aging.
If you’re looking for a fall prevention program in your area, start here:
North Florida Fall Prevention Program: