Preventing Falls

22 May 2024

Watching toddlers walk, especially in the early stages, you expect the occasional flop onto a posterior.  Kids are always tumbling.  Once mom or dad kisses the boo boo, or perhaps cleans it and puts on a cartoon adhesive bandage, he or she is off to play again.  As adults, out for a morning run or afternoon walk, a crack in the sidewalk, or other unseen item will cause a stumble and possibly hitting the dirt.

For older adults, falls are a real concern.  One of the required questions by a physician is whether or not there have been any falls within the past year.  Falls can be the precursor to a care facility because of a permanent disability.  A key to preventing falls is balance.

There are two types of balance: static where we are able to stand without falling over, and vestibular which involves the nervous system, vision, and other elements to let us know where we are in relation to the floor or ground and other objects in our path.  An older adult is particularly vulnerable.  Women are more likely to fall than men, but men are more likely to die from a fall.

There are many factors that can contribute to falls.  These include medications, even over the counter varieties, like antihistamines, sleep aids, and prescriptions.  Especially for older adults, cognitive disorders, pattern of walking, vision, or joint or muscular issues can lead to falling or balance issues.  Neuropathy can also contribute to unsteadiness.

falling, fall, preventing, tumble, accident

There are some measures that you can take to avoid taking a tumble.

  • Exams – Start with your primary healthcare provider. Explain your concerns and be sure that he or she has all the latest medications and supplements that you are taking, even on an occasional basis.  Be sure that the doctor or staff discuss muscle strength, joint pain, gait (the way you walk), and balance.  Issues with vision or hearing can also be factors and you may want to discuss scheduling appointments with those specialists.
  • Exercise – If you curtail your regular exercise, especially walking, because you are fearful of falling, discuss other options like water aerobics, yoga, or physical therapy.
  • Footwear – Wear sensible shoes. High heels, even wedges, flip-flops, backless slippers or shoes, or barefoot are all dangers.  You can easily slip, lose balance, or fall.  Correct fitting shoes can also lessen joint pain.
  • Hazards – Start with your home.
    • Declutter
    • Electrical or phone cords should not be in any paths or walk areas
    • Move furniture or objects from high-traffic areas
    • Secure throw rugs or remove them entirely
    • Replace any warped floorboards or tiles. Repair any tears in carpeting.
    • Use nonslip mats in the tub and shower. Use a bath seat in the shower.  Use handrails to get in and out of the shower.  This is important for all age groups.
  • Lighting
    • Place night lights in the bedroom, bath, and halls.
    • Turn on the bedside lamp when getting up in the dark.
    • Store flashlights within arm’s reach in the event of a power outage. Check batteries at least once per year.
  • Pets
    • Our furry family members are great companions, but it can be very easy to accidentally trip over a pet if you are not paying attention.

Add balance, coordination, and flexibility training to your regular workouts.  Gentle stretching and exercise like tai chi are good companions to regular walking and strength regimens.  Report all falls to your healthcare team, especially if you hit your head.  Even without loss of consciousness, you could sustain an injury that won’t show up for a while.


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