What if I told you there was a serious health crisis that many people might not be aware of. That it is the leading cause of injury-related hospitalization for older adults. That every 10 minutes this event sends an older person to the hospital, and that it is responsible for 60% of head injuries. This event must be motor vehicle accidents, right? Nope. Heart attacks or strokes? Wrong again. I too was surprised to learn that the leading cause of hospitalization in older adults is a fall from a standing height.
There is no single reason why people fall. If there was, we would of course work to prevent it. In many cases, there are multiple risk factors which can increase the risk of falling. Reducing these risk factors applies to everyone, not just seniors, however with seniors, the consequences of a fall can be more severe. Falls cause 90% of hip and wrist fractures. Let's look at some of the easiest ways in which to prevent falls for everyone.
Perhaps the easiest way to prevent falls is to have your eyes checked on a regular basis. If you have vision issues or incorrect glasses, it can make judging distances difficult. It can also make obstacles, like stairs or curbs, hard to see. So visit your eye doctor on a regular basis.
Stay active. Regular exercise increases lower body strength and helps improve balance. You do not need to start jogging or swim endless laps to improve muscle strength and balance. Most community centres have low impact activities suitable for all age ranges and abilities. You can try tai-chi, chair yoga, line dancing or pole walking. The options at my nearest seniors centre had at least 20 different classes to choose from. There were also classes specifically designed for fall prevention. Exercise is also social and can make you feel better, but this is just an added bonus.
Make your home safer. This is the best place to think about fall prevention. Take a few moments to look around your home. Or better still, have someone else evaluate safety in your home. Here are a few ideas to increase home safety:
Ensure there is proper lighting in all areas of the home, especially around stairs
Use non-slip mats in the bathroom and on shower floors
Use double-sided tape on the bottom of throw rugs, or better yet remove them
Keep frequently used items in easy to reach places; avoid using step-stools
Consider grab-bars or tub handles in the bathroom and around the toilet
Have a night-light in areas where you walk at night
Keep pathways wide and clear of clutter
If you have pets, ensure they are not underfoot before walking
Check with your Pharmacist to see if any of your medications increase your risk of a fall. Medications that lower your blood pressure might cause issues. Pharmacists often warn patients about the risk of something we call “postural hypotension.” Some medications are helpful for reducing your blood pressure, however, they can reduce your body’s ability to deliver blood when needed. This is usually noticed when you get up from sitting or lying down. It can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy. Pharmacists often recommend that people on blood pressure medications stand still for five seconds when they first stand up. This way if you do feel dizzy, you can just sit back down. Never jump up and race to answer the phone or the doorbell. Wait five seconds before you start walking.
November is fall prevention month in Canada. This is a good time to take a fresh look at hazards around the house. If you want to learn more, visit www.findingbalancebc.ca, it is a great resource for preventing falls.