It's Time to Talk About Falls

Related topics: Fall Prevention, Safety

Falls Prevention Awareness Day is held on the first day of fall—September 23 this year. When it comes to preventing falls, awareness is a big part of the strategy!

Woman with a walker at physical therapy

Falls rob seniors of their independence. They lead to broken bones and brain injuries. A simple fall can lead to death or disability. Yet many seniors who experience a fall keep it a secret from their doctors and families, say researchers from Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Some seniors report that they don't want to worry their families, and that they don't want to be lectured by their healthcare provider. Says Dr. Nicole Osevala, "They're worried about other people becoming concerned about safety issues at home and the potential that they may have to move from their home to an assisted living or a nursing home."

But secrecy is exactly the wrong choice when it comes to falls! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), experiencing a fall raises your risk of falling again. Fall prevention should be a team effort, consisting of seniors, their families, doctors and other health professionals, such as in-home caregivers and the staff of a senior living community. And the first step to lowering the risk is to be frank about your fall history.

Here are ten goals for the whole fall-prevention team to discuss:

1. Work with your doctor to manage health conditions that raise the risk of falling and fall-related injuries. These include arthritis, osteoporosis, postural hypotension, heart and lung disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, urinary tract infections, Parkinson's disease and the effects of stroke. Follow your doctor's advice about diet, smoking cessation and other lifestyle factors.

2. Ask your doctor for a fall-protecting exercise "prescription." Exercise is one of the top ways to reduce the risk of falls. A good exercise program includes activities to build muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and coordination.

3. Take a fall-reduction class. Health facilities, senior centers and other organizations offer programs to help seniors build strength, improve their sense of balance, develop good body mechanics, and learn protective strategies to head off falls before they happen. Participants also report that they receive a confidence boost from the support and friendship of others in the class.

4. Have regular eye examinations, and be sure your glasses or contact lens prescription is up to date. The CDC also says that people who wear bifocal or progressive lens glasses should consider getting a second pair with distance vision only for when they are walking around; sometimes the close-up vision sector at the bottom of the lens makes it hard to see stairs and sidewalks.

5. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all the medications you take, both prescription and over the counter. Some medications, either alone or when combined with other drugs, can cause dangerous side effects, such as dizziness, confusion or fatigue.

6. Inspect your home regularly for fall hazards. Remove clutter, clean up spills promptly, shovel snow and ice, secure carpets, add grab bars on stairs and in the bathroom, and improve lighting. With today's "universal design" emphasis, safety features can be both attractive and suitable for the needs of everyone.

7. If you use a cane, walker or other assistive device, ask your doctor or physical therapist for instructions on using it correctly. Be sure your device is properly fitted; the CDC says that an ill-fitting cane or walker can actually increase rather than decrease the risk of falls.

8. Drink alcohol moderately, if at all. Our bodies process alcohol less efficiently as we grow older, and even one serving of beer, wine or spirits can cause unsteadiness. Overindulgence can also worsen some of the health conditions that raise your fall risk. If cutting down is a problem, ask your doctor for suggestions.

9. Wear sturdy, well-fitting shoes with non-slip soles and low heels, both indoors and outdoors. Don't walk around the house barefoot or in socks; slippers, too, should be nonslip and well-fitted.

10. Be aware of your surroundings, both indoors and out; let "look before you walk" be your motto. Are there stairs ahead? A broken sidewalk? Clutter in the path? Take your time as you move around. Get in the habit of thinking two steps ahead, especially when you are in an unfamiliar place.

When it comes to fall prevention, silence is not golden! We can't prevent all falls, but the ten steps above can reduce the risk. Remember: discussing your fall risk is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it empowers you to take charge of your own health and independence.

Learn more about fall protection from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Council on Aging (NCOA)  and the National Safety Council.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2015 IlluminAge.