The season of fall serves as a great reminder to ‘fall proof’ your living environment. With an estimated 1 out of 4 seniors experiencing a fall yearly, many in their own homes, fall prevention is a senior public health challenge that must be met head on. 1 in 5 falls actually leads to serious injury according to the Centers for Disease Control, including head trauma and debilitating hip fractures.
One fall can be the difference between a retirement of travel and leisure, or a future of immobility and health problems. In addition to commonly known fall prevention tactics like installing grab bars in the bathroom, putting railings around stairways, and stretching and strengthening balance skills through exercise, there are a handful of other fall prevention strategies that often fall under the radar.
Unexpected fall risks to keep in mind include:
Did you know that as you age, it takes a little bit longer for your eyes to adjust when moving from darkness to light and light to darkness? Combine that with other age-related vision loss problems including cataracts, and you have a recipe for disaster. Limited visibility can be a key culprit in causing older adults to fall, so it is critical that consistent and accessible lighting is structured throughout your living environment.
This means putting similar-watt light bulbs in all the fixtures and lamps around your home, as well as making sure light switches are found on walls both inside and outside of doorways around waist to chest height. Placing drapes or blinds over windows that can cause blinding glares when sunlight streams in and bounces off of mirrors (i.e. in the bathroom) or the TV (i.e. in the bedroom) can help as well.
While pets like dogs and cats can be an important source of comfort and companionship for seniors, they might also increase risk of falling at home. Younger dogs and cats, for example, can easily get underfoot or jump up and knock you off balance. Larger, older dogs on the other hand may be slower to respond when you’re stepping over them for example, and can become an even bigger trip hazard.
Additionally, small items like cat toys and dog bones left strewn in common pathways in the house, as well as slick areas around pet food and water dishes, can post significant dangers for falling in the home. Confining pets to specific areas of the house may help in alleviating this hazard, as well as getting help when you walk the dog, for example.
So you have the grippiest shoes you could find with super tread that will make sure you don’t slip and fall, right? Wrong. Shoes with increased traction from extra rubber teeth on the soles can actually increase your likelihood of falling. How? By making it more difficult for you to move and glide smoothly as you walk. Extra traction literally holds you to the ground micro-seconds longer than you want, and when off balance, can mean the difference between you catching and correcting yourself, or you falling and injuring yourself.
Proper shoes for older adults should provide good support for the leg and stabilize the ankle, while fitting well and sporting smooth bottoms for safest walking. If wearing heels, aim for 1 inch or less to avoid common injuries like getting off balance and falling or rolling the ankle
Medicine Side Effects
Concerned about your own lack of strength and agility leading to a fall? You might want to take a look at your medicine cabinet before you head out to yoga class. Some medicinal side effects can increase chances of falling, and with more than 90% of older adults experiencing a chronic illness, chances are many of these medicines are prevalent, both prescription and over the counter.
In general, any medicines which suppress the central nervous system can lead to lessened awareness and response times in seniors. Medicines that cause drowsiness, dizziness, and other similar side effects can put you at higher risk as well – these might include anti-depressants, pain killers, cold medicines, sleep aids, and allergy medicines. Don’t stop taking prescribed drugs altogether, but consult your doctor about fall risk and potential drug alternatives for those which might inhibit your mobility.
The 10th Annual Fall Prevention Day will be marked on the first day of fall this year, Sept. 22, 2017. Get in on the action and set yourself up for a safe holiday season by fall-proofing your home.