As children, we played Ring Around the Rosie, ending with “ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
When small children fall down, it is fun. When older adults fall down, it is anything but fun. Over the course of my career, I saw many frail but independent elders fall, breaking a hip, and ending up in nursing homes for the rest of their lives.
The leading cause of injury and injury deaths among adults 65 and older is falls. At the last census, 14 million older adults – 28% of those 65 and older – reported falling during the prior year. In 2021, 38,742 older adults died due to falls.
How can you avoid adding to these dismal statistics? There are many things you can and should do!
You can do things to your body. Work on balance. An excellent way to do this is to sign up at the Y or your local Senior Center for Tai Chi – an exercise program focused on balance. At home you can do simple exercises on your own, such as standing on one leg – just Google “balance exercises.”
Increase your muscle strength with resistance exercises, including squats. This will both improve your leg strength, which reduces falls, and strengthen your bones, so you are less likely to sustain a fracture if you do fall.
Speaking of bones, do you know your T-score? Women in particular, but older men as well, should be checked for osteoporosis at least once. If your bones are very thin, your fracture risk is higher and you can discuss options with your doctor for improving this.
Beware of medication! Some medications can make you unsteady either by lowering your blood pressure too much or by directly impacting your brain. Sleeping pills and sedatives are a major culprit. A “med review” to look for any that can be stopped should be a regular event with your doctor.
Many simple things can reduce your risk of falls. When going up or down stairs, hold on to the banisters. Have adequate lighting, particularly at the bottom of stairs. If your vision is less than perfect, put bright tape on the last step so you do not miss it.
Be sure that any small rugs have non-skid bottoms or a non-skid pad under them.
Be cautious with ladders. Do not climb any higher than you would feel safe falling. DO use small ladders rather than chairs to get something down from a high shelf – ladders are designed to stay upright when you stand on them; chairs are not. Keep things used often on lower shelves.
Add grab bars to the shower. Closing your eyes to keep soap out of them can make you unsteady.
Both at home and in hotels, have a night light to help you safely navigate from bed to bathroom.
Be proactive! Do not be a statistic!
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