September is Fall Prevention Month, and while falls are a serious public health problem, they are largely preventable.
Falls can happen at any time to people of any age. As people get older however, the likelihood of falls and severity of the injury increases with age. According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in people age 65 and older. Commonly, the injuries involve the shoulder, wrist, spine, and hip as well as the pelvis. Falls can also cause serious head injuries.
“There are several steps that one can take to help prevent falls,” says Dr. William Smith with Georgia Sports Medicine. “There are health factors that should be considered, and there are environmental factors that can be altered. There are things that put you at a higher risk of falling, such as certain medical conditions and dietary habits. It is important to get an annual eye examination and a physical exam that includes an evaluation for cardiac and blood pressure problems.”
Dr. Smith also recommends taking the following steps to help reduce your risk of falling:
Check with your doctors about any side effects of your medications and over the counter drugs as fatigue or confusion increases your risk of falling.
- Talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program.
- Make sure all medications are clearly labeled and stored in a well-lit area.
- Keep an up to date list of all your medications and provide it to all of the doctors you consult with.
- Avoid excessive alcohol intake.
- If possible participate in an exercise program that aids in agility, strength, balance, and coordination, as this can build bone strength and slow osteoporosis progression.
- Consider a pastime such as cycling or gardening to improve health and quality of life.
- Do not smoke.
- Maintain a diet with adequate dietary calcium and vitamin D.
Home or environmental modifications can also help prevent falls as well. Dr. Smith recommends making sure that furniture is not blocking pathways in and out of rooms, reducing clutter such as boxes stacked on the floor, and decluttering your hallways and/or stairs. He also suggested securing loose rugs with double sided carpet tape or slip resistant backing and consider getting rid of small, unnecessary throw rugs. An occupational therapist will be able to help you spot hazards like these and find solutions to fix them.
“You should also make sure that all stairs in and around your home have handrails that stretch the full length of the stairs,” said Dr. Smith. “Hand rails or grab bars in your shower are a great idea as well. Lighting is also extremely important, so it’s a good idea to have nightlights placed in hallways or frequently traveled walkways. You should also consider having a nightlight in your bathroom, in addition to making sure that you have a clear path to get to the restroom.”
Dr. Smith recommends keeping things that you use on a regular basis within easy reach, such as clothes in your bedroom or dishes in your kitchen. Designated play areas for children in the home is recommended too.
“Keep the dedicated play area cleaned and picked up regularly, so you don’t trip over toys,” said Dr. Smith.
Footwear is an important category to Dr. Smith when it comes to fall prevention as well.
“It’s very important to wear the right footwear,” said Dr. Smith. “You should choose proper fitting shoes with nonskid soles and avoid high heels. You also want to make sure to keep your laces tied and never walk in stocking feet. Replace slippers that are loose or stretched out of shape. It’s also a good idea to clean up all spills like liquid, grease, and food around your home immediately, as a fall can occur due to slick surfaces even with the proper footwear.”
Falls can be a life changing event that can cause the loss of mobility or independence for older adults, but Dr. Smith stressed that so many are preventable.
“While you can’t change factors like your age or diseases that might contribute to your fall risk, you can certainly change some of the things I’ve already listed,” said Dr. Smith. “Anything that you can do to help prevent a fall helps you maintain independence and continue living in your own home. Be smart about ways to guard against falling and talk to your doctor about implementing some of the ideas I’ve already mentioned.”