Promote healthy aging by preventing accidental falls

Family, caregivers and friends can help older adults prevent falls by recognizing environmental and physical causes and taking steps to lower risk.

According to the National Council on Aging, one in three older Americans fall down every year. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people over age 65. Older adults who take fall prevention seriously reduce their risk for hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries, and increase their chances of maintaining their health and independence.

The National Council on Aging says that there are some common factors that can lead to a fall:

  • Balance and gait: As we age, most of us lose some coordination, flexibility and balance — primarily through inactivity, making it easier to fall. 
  • Vision: In the aging eye, less light reaches the retina, making contrasting edges, tripping hazards and obstacles harder to see.
  • Medications: Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall.
  • Environment: Most seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and have never thought about simple modifications that might keep it safer as they age.
  • Chronic conditions: More than 90 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, stroke or arthritis. Often, these increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain or multiple medications.

There are ways to prevent or minimize the chances of falling. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to take the possibility of falling down seriously; it is not always “other people” who are at risk. If you have dizziness or balance problems, talk to your health care provider to assess your risk for falls and to learn about community resources that might help. Medicare now offers an annual wellness visit for prevention. This will give you an opportunity to talk candidly to your healthcare professional about all your questions.

Make sure that you have regular eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Changes in your sight can put you at higher risk of a fall. Also have your doctor review your medications regularly to see if medications or medication interactions could be compromising your balance. Find a helpful, accurate way to track your medicine so you are taking the proper doses at the proper times.

If you are physically inactive, have difficulty rising from a chair or feel physically weak, ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist to increase your balance, strength and gait using an exercise program. Check with the therapist to see if using mobility aids such as a cane or walker can help with mobility and safety.

Have an occupational therapist assess the safety of your home. According to the National Council on Aging, there are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer.

  • Lighting: Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs. Ensure that lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night.
  • Stairs: Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.
  • Bathrooms: Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. Make sure they’re installed where you will actually use them. For even greater safety, consider using a shower chair and hand-held shower. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a home assessment checklist to help you increase the safety of your home. 

Michigan local senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging promote a variety of community-based programs, like A Matter of Balance and Tai Chi, which can help older adults learn how to reduce their risk of falling. Contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out what’s available in your area.

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