How to Prevent Falls
Our awareness of falling and its complications strengthen as we age. Many parents believe childhood tumbles have few consequences. But if you examine records, they show the contrary. Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries among all ages. Understanding how to prevent falls at any age can go a long way towards preserving health as we grow older. As the risks associated with falling increase with age, falls are becoming deadlier. In the U.S., more than 25,000 adults aged 75+ died from a fall in 2016, up from 8,600 fatalities in 2000. Even when falls don’t result in death, they can still cause major physical and mental health setbacks. We must safeguard our futures by understanding the basics of how to prevent falls.
Concussions are one of the many health setbacks that can change your life. They are the most common form of brain injury. Concussions occur when an injury produces a temporary loss of normal brain functioning. Often caused by a sudden impact to the head or body, concussions also result from whiplash or blast injuries due to a nearby explosion. Any event causing the brain to bounce or twist can create chemical changes, or stretch and damage brain cells. There may be no external injuries or loss of consciousness, but confusion, forgetfulness, memory loss and other symptoms may still be present. One concussion may not cause permanent damage but enduring another brain injury soon after can be disabling.
Luckily, there are plenty of actions you can take to protect yourself from an injury. First on the list? Educate yourself about prevention and use the strategies discussed below.
Why are fall fatalities increasing?
Experts attribute the rise in numbers to various factors. People are living longer and maintaining activity well into old age. The increase in active older adults and a growing awareness of falls among older populations and health professionals has also contributed to better reporting
What can people do to prevent falls?
People should take a multifaceted approach for prevention and consider the suggestions below. Falls do not have a single cause and are always better prevented by using a variety of strategies.
How to Prevent Falls
- Exercise Regularly
Combining both aerobic and anaerobic exercise into 20 minutes of daily activity can improve flexibility, range of motion, strength and endurance. Use weight training to build leg strength and further decrease your risk of falling.
- Incorporate Balance Training
Practicing Tai Chi twice per week for one hour has been shown to reduce the chance of falling by 58 percent. Tai Chi trains the body to maintain stability even in off-kilter positions.
- Stay Mentally Active
Cognition plays a significant role in preventing falls. Improving cognition helps you avoid distractions, allows you to “remember” where the body is within your environment and increases your response to sudden environmental changes. Exercises such as yoga, Tai Chi and dance help strengthen this mind-body connection. Contact Dr. Diane for a cognitive remediation therapy consultation or try one of the many FDA-approved CES devices.
- Wear the Right Shoes
Use properly fitted shoes with backings, sturdy non-skid soles and good treads. Slip-on shoes and high heels can cause falls. Avoid walking in slippers, stockings or socks as these can also be quite slippery.
- Use a Gait Aid if You Need One
Gait aids are terrific tools in protecting against a fall. A walker, cane or trekking poles can increase confidence and independence during activities.
- Check Eyesight and Hearing Regularly
Both senses are vital to balance and prevention of unnecessary falls. Visit a doctor to be certain you’re getting the help you need.
- Limit Use of Bifocals or Progressive Lenses When Walking Outside
These glasses, while helpful in some situations, may cause you to misjudge a step or curb outside. Use them only in specific situations to avoid tripping.
- Review Medications
Many medications cause drowsiness, dizziness and muscle weakness, increasing your chance of falling. Consult a doctor to review all prescribed and over-the-counter medications for directions on proper use. Be sure to take them strictly as prescribed. As metabolism slows with age, you can reach levels of toxicity more rapidly. Many common sleeping pills and antihistamines can comprise your balance.
- Limit Alcohol
Another result of a slower metabolism is the accelerated effect of alcohol on the body. Limit alcohol use to decrease the chance of falling.
- Keep Hydrated
Maintaining hydration can reduce dizziness, a common cause of falls.
- Take Regular Bathroom Breaks
All that hydration should make for frequent trips to the bathroom. Take regular trips to the restroom to avoid rushing during an “emergency situation.” Raising yourself from a sitting to standing position improves strength and balance. Try incorporating a few more of these raises into your day if you can!
- Evaluate Home Layout and Furnishings
Many falls happen at home—don’t let the comfort of your surroundings provide a false sense of security. Even an item raised a fraction of an inch off the ground can cause a trip. Take note of the many changes you can make at home to decrease your chances of falling.
- Remove low-profile furniture (such as coffee tables and small shelves) and any furniture that blocks walking paths.
- Eliminate loose carpeting, or any small rugs you may trip over. Remove rugs that slide, fold or bunch up. Place nonslip pads under rugs as well
- Repair loose floorboards.
- Clear away hazardous clutter or loose cords.
- Place frequently used items within reach.
- Make doorways easily accessible and place light switches nearby.
- Increase light sources. Place lamps at your bedside, top and bottom of stairs, hallways, bathrooms, bedrooms and home entryways.
- Leave a light or nightlight on in case you need to get out of bed in the middle of the night.
- Install railings on both walls for stairs and hallways. Consider installing rails in bathtubs, showers, around toilets and anywhere else you often transition from a seated to standing position.
- Don’t Neglect the Exterior
As you assess the interior of your home, take time to review the exterior. Are there holes, uneven ground or cracks in walkways? Patch anything you might trip over, install guard rails and plenty of exterior lighting where needed.
- Take Caution Around Pets
While they provide great companionship, pets can also cause a dangerous tumble. They can trip you up, or their strength can knock you down with a jump or tug of a leash. It’s best to be aware of this risk and take precautions when necessary.
The risks of falling are reduced through education and application. By learning how to prevent falls, you can effectively mitigate the risk. Falling can be hugely detrimental to health outcomes. All it takes is one fall for an individual to reduce activity for fear of falling again. This decreased physical activity reduces mobility, balance and strength—thereby increasing risk. Don’t underestimate the risk of a tumble. Understand how to prevent falls to protect the future of your mental and physical health.