By Dr. Beth G. Hodges
Did you know that six out of every 10 falls happen at home? While you probably didn’t consider falls a big deal when you were a kid, or even in your 20s and 30s, falls as an older adult can be the start of more serious problems. One in three who are 65 or older fall each year.
As you get older, your risk of falling increases. Eyesight, hearing, and reflexes may not be as sharp as they used to be, or maybe you have chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease that can affect balance. Certain medications can make you dizzy or sleepy—and more likely to fall.
Here are some changes you can make to prevent falls:
Secure your stairs:
- If you have stairs, inside or out, make sure the handrails are secure. When carrying something up or down stairs, hold the item in one hand and use the handrail with the other. Always make sure you have a clear view of where you’re stepping.
- Don’t leave items on the floor or stairs. They can be trip hazards.
- Make sure your stairs are well lit.
Watch those walkways:
- Small area rugs can be slippery. If you must use them, be sure they have a non-slip rug pad underneath.
- If you have pets, pay close attention to where they are as you walk.
- Keep walkways clear from cords or furniture.
Be careful in the bathroom:
- Install grab bars near toilets and on both the inside and outside of your tub and shower.
- Add a non-slip mat to your shower or tub.
- Add a night light in your bathroom.
Keep lights close at night:
- Place nightlights or lamps close to your bed so you can see when getting up at night.
- Keep a flashlight by your bed in case the power goes out.
- Keep your phone near your bed in case of an emergency.
Aside from making these changes in your home, you can avoid falls and broken bones by taking care of your overall health. Here’s how:
Stay active. Regular exercise helps everything from your muscles and joints to your tendons and ligaments. Even walking and climbing stairs can help. If you notice problems in your balance, tai chi is a good form of exercise to aid in balance. Always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routines. Ask whether a referral to physical therapy could be helpful.
Take care of your bones. While having healthy bones won’t prevent falls, it might prevent breaking a bone. (Weak bones may be a sign of osteoporosis.) Get enough calcium and vitamin D:
- Women 51 and older need 1,200 mg of calcium per day
- Men under 70 need 1,000 mg per day; men over 70 need 1,200 mg
- Most adults over 50 need 800–1,000 IU of vitamin D per day.
Get your vision and hearing tested. Small changes in vision or hearing can increase your risk of falls.
Check your meds. Ask your doctor about the side effects of any medications you’re taking.
Get a good night’s sleep. Feeling tired or sleepy can increase your fall risk.
Limit your alcohol intake. Studies show the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use. Also, consider how alcohol interacts with your medications.
Check your shoes. Non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes are best. Also, don’t walk on stairs or non-carpeted floors in socks or smooth-soled shoes—you’re more likely to slip.
Talk to your doctor about your fall risk. If you’ve fallen since your last checkup, even if you weren’t hurt, be sure to mention it. Your provider may want to do a fall risk assessment.
Dr. Beth Hodges is a family practice and palliative care/hospice physician in Asheboro, N.C., as well as a part-time medical director for HealthTeam Advantage.