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Can we Prevent Falling?
Not completely, no. But there are many relatively simple things we can do to prevent a fall, especially as we age. Here are some basic suggestions for improving your chances of avoiding a fall.
In the Bathroom: Install grab bars; use a non-skid rug; find out about toilet risers and other safety equipment for the bathroom; put self-stick strips on the floor of the tub or shower; use a shower chair.
In the Bedroom: Keep a lamp within reach; tuck in sheets and blankets; keep a phone by the bed that's easy to reach; use night lights or have a flashlight handy.
Throughout the House: Keep stairways clean of clutter; make often-used areas well-lighted; install handrails if needed; use a step stool or small step ladder to reach things higher up; wear shoes that give you good support, even in the house; avoid clutter in any room; improve the lighting, if necessary; hang curtains or blinds which will prevent glare on bright days.
Clothing: Wear comfortable shoes which give you full support; hem pants so they won't drag on the floor; wear clothes that fit and are loose; use clothes that are easy to put on and take off; while dressing, use a chair or the bed to help you maintain balance; avoid going barefoot inside or outside.
In your community: Report hazards to the appropriate authorities (property manager, the city) for such things as uneven pavement, snow or ice on the sidewalk, unsafe building entrances, poorly lit stairways, lack of handrails or rest areas; avoid carrying heavy objects; use a backpack or a shopping cart; stay alert to your surroundings; watch where you are stepping.
Medications and Check-Ups: Be aware of the medications you are taking and their side effects; see your doctor and dentist on a regular basis; do not mix prescriptions; do not take someone else's medication; avoid mixing prescription medications with over-the-counter medications. (See also: Medications of all Stripes: Use them with Knowledge and Seeing Your Doctor: When Should you go?)
Healthy Diet: Eat healthy food; drink lots of water; talk to your doctor about any foods you should include in your diet or exclude from your diet because of any health conditions you may have; keep your bones strong with calcium-and-Vitamin-D-rich foods.
Stay Active: Take a daily walk; attend a fitness class; choose a physical activity you enjoy and keep doing it regularly.
What if there's no chance of preventing a fall? What do I do in that moment?
When we fall, it is usually so quick that we don't even have time to think about the consequences. But, if you can keep your wits about you, there are some things that might help.
- Breathe as much as you can. This should help to relax your muscles and they will be less likely to be damaged.
- After a fall, do not get up quickly. Remain where you are until you can assess the situation.
If you are falling backward, consider these defensive reactions:
- Put your hand up to the back of your head (to avoid hitting your head).
- Lean to the left or the right slightly so the force does not hit your back full-on.
- Bend the knees slightly which gets you closer to the ground sooner.
If you are falling forward, here are some things to consider:
- Keep your head up so it will not hit the ground.
- Use your palms and spread out your fingers as much as possible to help break the fall, but you do not want your hands to take ALL of your body weight.
- Don't lock your elbows. Let them absorb some of the speed of the fall by being slightly bent.
- As you get closer to the ground, if possible, try to roll to the side.
If you are falling to the side, here are some other suggestions:
- Use the palm and forearm of the side you are falling towards.
- Tuck your chin to avoid your head hitting the ground.
- Squat first (if possible).
- Once on the ground, you may wish to roll to your back.
- Avoid landing directly on your hip.
Are there other things older adults can do to prevent falling?
Yes. There are two important activities that you should consider doing on a regular basis in your post-55 world.
Regular Exercise (both cardiovascular and strength training): Research shows that exercise will help us to ward off, delay, or lessen the effects of many health conditions from arthritis to stroke. Strength training is particularly important for keeping the arms and legs strong. 2
Balance Training: There are fitness instructors who are trained to work with older adults and their knowledge of exercises that are suitable for the older adult is greater than that of most fitness instructors. See also: Exercise and Balance.
It is never too late to start physical activity. Even a daily walk will be beneficial to your health. Start today!
For a personal discussion of a fall I took in 2011, see After a Fall.
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.