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Falling – the Beginning of the End

on April 28, 2014

A major fear shared by many seniors is the fear of falling. They fear that a trip or stumble will result in a broken hip and it will be “the beginning of the end.” In fact, brain injuries account for more than half of the deaths from falls. Breaking bones and brain injuries can be prevented by taking precautions to avoid falling.

The risk of falling increases as we age, largely as a result of deteriorating vision and poor balance. The side effect of many medications can cause dizziness. Decreased strength from inactivity and reduction of muscle mass make it harder to withstand trip hazards in the environment.

The good news is that falls can be prevented.

Vision can be improved by having an eye doctor revise the prescription for glasses. Just a simple thing like keeping your lenses clean will help you see more clearly. Removal of cataracts produces a remarkable improvement  in vision, often limiting the need to wear glasses only when reading.

Most falls occur in the home.  The biggest threat is in your bathroom. Install grab bars in the shower or tub. Use a textured bath mat to minimize slippery surfaces. Consider the use of a shower chair. Place non-skid bath rugs in the areas where the floor might get wet.

Rearrange the storage areas in your kitchen so that you don’t have to reach for things you need most often. Use a sturdy footstool or get a reaching device that will grab onto anything you need that is out of reach.

Use bright lights throughout the house and plug in night lights in strategic areas to prevent tripping in the dark. Place  contrasting colors on steps and thresholds to define changes in elevation and reduce the risk of falling.

Look around your house to see if you can minimize clutter and organize placement of furniture. The more stuff you have in your home, the easier it is to get in the way and trip you up.

Throw rugs are notorious for contributing to trips and falls. The safest thing to do is to get rid of them. If you can’t part with your throw rugs, make sure they are firmly attached to the floor with carpet tape.

Balance can be improved through exercise. Balance can be re-learned through practice. Exercise will also strengthen muscles to improve mobility and the flexibility to catch yourself when thrown off balance. Physical therapy can also improve balance and mobility.

Review your medications with your doctor to see if there are alternates which do not cause dizziness. Ask for suggestions from your doctor to cope with side effects which may contribute to feeling off balance.

Pay attention to your surroundings, especially when carrying things. Carrying a bag, tray or plate in front of you will obscure your view of what is immediately on the ground.

Wear non skid shoes. Leather soles don’t stick to carpet. Athletic shoes have grooves which can catch on carpet keeping your feet stuck while the rest of your body pitches forward.

It is amazing to realize that something as devastating as a fall can be prevented by paying attention and taking the steps to compensate for physical limitations and hazards in your environment.

 

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