Don’t let the cooler temperatures send you indoors and to the couch. Keeping up with normal activity is important year-round, to maintain strength and reduce the risk of falling.
Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for injuries from falling. One out of five falls result in a serious injury like a broken bone or a head injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities, or live on their own.
“However, fear of falling shouldn’t lead us to decrease our everyday activities, says Kaitlin Bechtel, RN, WellSpan Health Injury Prevention coordinator. “When a person is less active, they become weaker which could increase their risk of falling.”
Bechtel is a coach with WellSpan’s Matter of Balance program, which helps participants gain the confidence they need to increase their activity levels with less fear of falling.
The risk of falling and fall-related injuries rises with age. However, many falls can be prevented.
Bechtel offers additional tips that can help prevent falls:
- Talk to your healthcare provider. To assess your risk and discuss fall prevention strategies, discuss the following with your provider:
- Your medications. Make a list of your prescription and nonprescription medications and supplements, or bring them with you to the appointment. Your provider can review your supplements, prescription and nonprescription medications for side effects and interactions that may increase your risk of falling.
- Any previous falls. Write down the details, including when, where and how you fell. Also, discuss times when you almost fell, but may have been caught by someone.
- Your health conditions. Certain eye and ear disorders may increase your risk of falls. Discuss your health conditions and how comfortable you are when you walk. Inform your provider if you feel any dizziness, joint pain, shortness of breath, or numbness in your feet and legs when you walk. You may need to have your muscle strength, balance, and walking style evaluated.
- Have your eyes checked. Have an eye exam at least once a year, and be sure to update your glasses, if needed.
- Keep moving. Physical activity can help prevent you from falling. Walking, water workouts, and low-impact exercises like tai chi can improve your strength, balance, flexibility, and coordination, which in turn helps reduce the risk of a fall.
If physical activity scares you because you could fall, your provider may recommend a monitored exercise program or refer you to a physical therapist. The physical therapist can create a custom exercise program to help improve balance, flexibility, and muscle strength.
- Wear the correct shoes. Sensible footwear helps prevent falls. Walking in high heels, slippers, socks, and shoes with slick soles can cause you to slip or fall. Instead, wear properly fitting, sturdy, flat shoes with nonskid soles. Sensible shoes may also reduce joint pain.
- Remove home hazards. Make your home safer by:
- Removing boxes, newspapers, and electrical cords from walkways.
- Move coffee tables, plant stands, and other furniture from high-traffic areas.
- Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, a slip-resistant backing, or remove loose rugs altogether.
- Repair loose floorboards or carpeting.
- Store clothing, dishes, food, and other necessities within easy reach.
- Clean any spilled liquids or food right away.
- Use nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower. A bath seat is an option that allows you to sit while showering.
- Light it up.
- Keep your home brightly lit to avoid tripping on objects that are hard to see.
- Use night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways.
- Have a lamp within reach of your bed in case you need to get up in the middle of the night.
- Make clear paths to light switches that aren't near room entrances. Consider using illuminated switches.
- Turn on the lights before going up or down the steps.
- Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages.
- Use support to remain steady. Assistive devices help keep you steady and help you stay independent. They include:
- Canes and walkers.
- Handrails on both sides of the steps.
- Nonslip treads for bare-wood steps.
- A raised toilet seat or one with armrests.
- Grab bars for the shower or tub.
Gain strength and confidence with WellSpan
WellSpan’s Matter of Balance program is a free, evidence-based program consisting of eight, two-hour courses with trained coaches, who help participants reach their goals and lessen their risk factors.
Individuals who could benefit include:
- Those with a fear of falling
- Have a history of falls
- Would like to increase activity
- Need to improve balance and strength
- Age 60 years or older, can walk, and can problem-solve
Information about upcoming classes may be found here. For more about the Matter of Balance program, click here.