How Seniors Can Prevent Falls: Nine Steps to Take
As we learn more about health, wellness, and the human body, life expectancy in the United States continues to increase.
In fact, Americans age 65 and older comprise the fastest-growing demographic in the country. As the population ages, we continue to see more and more patients suffering trauma injuries related to falling.
On a yearly basis, one in four Americans over the age of 65 suffers a fall-related injury, and tens of thousands of Americans die as a result of trauma suffered from a fall.
It’s important to know that falls are not a normal part of aging — with proactive measures, they can be prevented.
Injury prevention is a critical component of the Trauma Program at South Shore Hospital. Falls are the most common injury we see, and our goal is to offer prevention guidelines, resources, and classes to help eliminate falls whenever possible.
Each September, the National Council on Aging observes Falls Prevention Awareness Week.
It’s a great time for older Americans to assess the falls risks in and around their homes, or for younger Americans to perform similar assessments at their parents’ homes.
While accidents do happen, they can often be prevented by taking proactive measures to reduce clutter, improve lighting, and eliminate tripping hazards in and around the home.
Here are nine things you can do to reduce your risk of falling.
1. Attend a Matter of Balance class to help lower your fall risk.
“Fear of falling” (FOF) is a real phobia, one that can lead to restricted activities and a decreased quality of life.
Additionally, FOF can actually lead to increased fall risk due to muscle weakness from lack of mobility.
Helping people address FOF is just one of the benefits of attending a Matter of Balance (MOB) class. These classes offer structured group intervention that emphasizes strategies to reduce fear of falling while also increasing activity levels.
These virtual classes are held as four-week sessions, with classes twice per week.
For more information on joining one of these classes, please contact Karen Peterson, Community Benefits Coordinator, at 781-624-7415 or kpeterson4 [at] southshorehealth.org.
2. Install solid, secure hand rails on each side of your stairs.
While most staircases will have a railing installed on one side, adding a second railing on the other side will offer a second place to support yourself in the event of a slip or trip.
Don’t forget about your basement stairs or deck stairs — even if they’re just a few steps!
3. Install grab bars in your bathroom.
Bathroom floors can get quite slippery, making it essential to have grab bars for additional support.
For maximum safety, grab bars should be installed in your tub or shower, as well as next to your toilet.
4. Ensure that your home is adequately lit at night.
Whether you’re getting up to use the bathroom or to grab a midnight snack, walking through your home in the dark can be dangerous.
Consider leaving a light on at night to help you find your way, or installing motion-activated lights in your most commonly used nighttime rooms, like your kitchen or bathroom.
5. Avoid throw rugs or area rugs.
While rugs can add an element of style or a splash of color to a room, they can also come with loose or raised edges, which are a tripping hazard.
6. Keep your floors as free of clutter as possible.
We’ve all been tempted to store things in corners or underneath tables, but keeping more items than necessary on your floor increases your risk of tripping.
High-traffic areas like hallways or stairways should be entirely free of clutter.
7. Wear slip-resistant footwear in and out of your home.
While it can be comfortable to lounge around home in your socks, doing so increases your chances of slipping, particularly in homes with hardwood, laminate, or tile floors.
Instead, try wearing slippers or slipper socks with treads on the bottom. They offer comfort with an added element of grip.
8. Talk to your doctor about your fall risk.
Identifying health conditions that increase your risk of falling is a key part of preventing those falls from happening in the first place.
Discussing mobility issues with your care provider will allow your provider to offer advice on how to minimize the risk associated with those issues.
9. Do exercises to improve strength and balance.
Staying active is a great way to keep your muscles, bones, and joints engaged, thereby increasing your steadiness on your feet.
The CDC recommends that adults who are “generally fit” perform muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week.
Lauren VanLuling, BSN, RN is Trauma Resource Nurse for Injury Prevention at South Shore Health.
Get more information on Falls Prevention Awareness Week by visiting the National Council on Aging website.