Fall prevention isn’t something most of us need to worry about until later in life… Or is it? I used to think the same thing until I did a little bit more reading for fall prevention month. It turns out that we can actually do a lot to prepare ourselves for elderly life and reduce that fall risk that many carry into their later years.
In my opinion, education is incredibly important when it comes to any situation we’re unfamiliar with. Falls are the number one cause of injury in elderly adults in Canada, and every year 1 in 3 Canadians will have at least one fall . Among seniors who fell last year, 61% were women, and 39% were men, and both their risk and instance of falls increased with age . But, a big point is that we don’t want to be afraid of falling, only to know the risks, as an exaggerated perception of fall risk actually led to a higher instance of falls . Therefore, we don’t want anyone to be afraid, only aware.
Strength and aerobic exercise are a couple things that will both help your overall health now, as well as later in life. A recent study showed that strength and aerobic exercise that is established at a young age is easier for individuals to carry on to elder life, as opposed to when it isn’t established earlier in life . Along with this, you can also prepare yourself by watching out for the older members of your family. Educating yourself and them while helping to ensure that they have led their life with a mitigated fall risk.
As we age there is quite a variability in the overall quality of life from person to person. Some individuals age quite well and maintain their strength, and independence. With others there seems to be an accelerated onset of weakness, disability, and frailty. Why is this? Well, in some cases it’s genetics, some are unlucky, while others have led lifestyles that have been non-beneficial, or even harmful to their own longevity.
What are some things we can do to mitigate the risk of falls?
1. Make an Appointment with Your Doctor:
Doctors can educate us more thoroughly about the medications and supplements we are taking:
· Any side effects that may increase the fall risk
Be honest with them about whether or not you’ve fallen before
· Write down the details of your fall or near fall:
· These can help prevent further falls
Ask them about any health conditions you may have that could increase your risk for a fall:
· Eye or ear issues
· Your comfortability with walking
· Any dizziness, shortness of breath, or numbness in feet or legs when walking
· Get them to evaluate your strength balance and gait
2. Keep Moving
Physical activity is very important, and with your doctor’s OK you can put together a program to stay healthy:
· Walking, water workouts, or tai chi are just a few ideas
A good exercise plan should help you improve your balance, coordination, strength, and flexibility
3. Wear Sensible Footwear
High-heels, floppy slippers, and shoes with slick soles are all fall hazards that can cause a slip, stumble or trip
Do not walk on slippery floors in stockinged feet
Replace footwear before it wears out
Wear properly fitting shoes with good ankle support and soles that are non-slip
4. Remove Home Hazards
Check all of the rooms in your home (living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, stairways, hallways, etc.)
Remove boxes, papers, cords, and cables that are in the walking area
Coffee tables, plants, and magazine racks should be kept out of high-traffic areas
Secure any loose rugs with slip-resistant back, tape, or tacks to avoid tripping hazards
Repair floorboards or carpets immediately
Clean spills right away to avoid a slip
Use non-slip mats in the bath tub/shower
Keep your home well lit:
· Use night lights throughout the bedroom and bathroom
· Keep a lamp by the bed within easy reach
· Clear paths to light switches that are not near the entrance to a room
· Install glow in the dark light switches or illuminated switches
· Always have the lights on when using the stairs
· Keep flashlights in easy to access locations in case of a power outage
6. Assistive Devices
Ensure that there are hand rails on both sides of the stairs
There are non-slip treads on any wooden steps
Use a raised toilet seat with handles
Install grab bars in the bathtub and shower
Use a sturdy shower seat in the shower or bathtub
A hand-held shower nozzle is important as well
Ask your doctor about referring you to an occupational therapist who can help you to brainstorm about different ways to mitigate your fall risk.
Now, what about strengthening your body to decrease your risk of falling? Well, I actually found a list of great exercises to do at home that, if done regularly, can help to improve your strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility.
(Remember to always consult your healthcare or fitness professional before changing your exercise program)
Exercises to Help Prevent Fall Risk:
1. Alternating Lunges
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Place a sturdy chair to one side to hold for balance. (As you gain strength, you can perform this exercise without holding onto a chair.) Keeping your back straight, step forward with one foot. Bend your front knee until your back knee is almost touching the ground. Make sure your front knee doesn’t extend past your front toes. Then, push through your front foot to return to standing. Repeat with the opposite leg. Start with five reps per leg before increasing to 10 reps per leg. Once 10 reps feel easy, add 5-pound weights.
2. Single Leg Stands
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. If needed, hold onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. (As you progress at this exercise, you can perform it without holding onto anything.) From here, lift one foot an inch off of the floor while keeping your torso straight and without leaning toward your planted foot. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then slowly return it to the floor. Repeat on the opposite leg. Perform five repetitions on each leg.
Begin seated in a chair with arms. Then, brace yourself on the arms and push your butt up in the air using as little help from your lower body as possible. Once you’ve lifted your body out of the chair, slowly lower yourself back into a seated position. Perform 10 repetitions.
4. Tricep Kickbacks
Begin standing to one side of a sturdy chair or bench, holding a 2-pound weight down by your opposite side in one hand. With your back straight, hinge forward at the waist to place your free hand on the chair or bench. Then, bend your opposite arm at the waist. Keeping your elbow planted at your waist, extend only your forearm behind you. Pull the weight back to your waist. Perform 10 repetitions per arm, and work your way up to a 5-pound weight.
5. Chair Leg Raises
Begin seated in a sturdy chair. Then, holding on to the bottom of the chair with both hands, extend one leg straight out and bring your knee in toward your chest without moving your upper body to meet it. Extend your leg back out and lower your foot to the ground. Repeat with the opposite side. Start with five reps per leg, and work up to 10.
Remember, everything above is helpful, but just because you do your best to prevent a fall there is still a risk. It’s important to check in with your healthcare and fitness professionals regularly, because as we age there are constantly changes going on in our bodies that we might not notice right away. If we’re vigilant and do the best to keep our bodies as healthy as possible, it’s surprising how much influence we can have on the effects of aging.
1. Fall Prevention: Simple Tips to Prevent Falls
2. Preventing Falls: Injury Prevention and Safety
3. 6 Best Exercises for Preventing Falls in Older Adults
4. Physical Activity in Older Age: Perspectives for Healthy Aging and Frailty
5. Understanding Seniors’ Risk of Falling and Their Perception of Risk