Falling is NOT a normal part of aging. The risk of a fall may increase as we age, but you can reduce these risks.
People fall for a variety of reasons, including:
Safety hazards in your home
Your overall health
Lack of exercise
In this article, we’ll discuss each fall risk and steps you can take to avoid falls so you can live safely and independently at home.
1. Home Safety Hazards
Many homes have common safety hazards that could increase your risk of a fall. It’s a good idea to regularly walk through your home and look for possible hazards. Here are a few to consider:
Electrical or Phone Cords — Check your pathways for cords that might cause trips.
Rugs, Floors, and Slippery Surfaces — Remove any rugs that are not securely attached to the floor. Clean up spills right away. Floor tiles should have texture so they are not slick.
Steps or Stairs — Do you have handrails on all steps or stairs? A rail on both sides helps with balance. Is your stairway lighted, with a switch at the top and bottom?
Tubs and Showers — Use grab bars and non-slip floor mats around the tub. Consider a shower chair if you feel unsteady or dizzy standing.
Lighting — Use night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and hallways. Don’t use chairs or step stools to change out-of-reach bulbs... Ask someone for help.
Reaching — Keep the items you use most, like plates and glasses, on shelves about chest or waist-high. This helps you avoid bending or reaching for them. Avoid using step stools or chairs to reach items on high shelves.
A Path of Care agencies offer offers home safety assessments when beginning care. Our staff can help you identify risks and recommend changes for a safer home.
Some medications can make you feel dizzy or unsteady. They can sometimes cause blurred vision or changes in blood pressure. These side effects can increase your risk of falling. To reduce your fall risk, you can:
Keep a current list that includes prescription medications, non-prescription drugs, vitamins, supplements, drops, inhalers, ointments, etc.
List the amount you take, how often, and when you take it.
If it is a prescription medicine, note who prescribed it and why.
Share this list with your doctor. Point out any changes, even with over-the-counter medicines.
A Path of Care nurses create a list of all the medications you take so your doctor has a current list. Your doctor can check for any medications or side effects that could increase your fall risk.
3. Overall Health
Fall risk can increase if you have certain health conditions, such as:
Blood pressure changes
A change in blood pressure can make you feel dizzy or light-headed. Sometimes it causes blurred vision. It can even cause fainting and falls. Talk with your doctor about any changes in your blood pressure.
If you have blood pressure issues, move slowly when you stand up. Give your body time to adjust to the new position. When getting out of bed, sit on the side of the bed with your legs down for at least 30 seconds before standing. Don’t walk if you feel dizzy, and keep your phone within reach.
This is a general term for loss of memory, language and problem-solving skills, and other thinking abilities. It is caused by damage to brain cells. This is commonly from Alzheimer’s disease or bleeding/blockage in the tiny blood vessels in the brain.
People with dementia are at increased fall risk because they may have trouble with their senses and coordination. The brain struggles to send messages to the rest of the body. They may not perceive depth, light, colors, patterns, or temperature. People with dementia may become less active. This affects their muscle strength and balance.
To reduce risk:
Avoid black surfaces, which the brain may interpret as a black hole.
Keep pathways clear. Remove clutter. Make sure the floor is dry and not slippery.
Use simple furniture arrangements. Remove small, unsteady tables or chairs.
Keep important items in consistent, easy-to-reach places.
Certain anti-depressant medications can affect your balance and movement. Your risk is highest when your body is adjusting to a new medicine. Depression can also affect your gait, or the way you walk. People with depression often walk more slowly or take shorter steps. This can impact your balance.
Be sure to exercise and stay active. Safe exercise can help with strength and balance. This helps reduce the fear of falling. If you are less afraid of falling, you may be more comfortable getting out to interact with others. This may even help relieve depression. Talk to your doctor about any side effects of antidepressants.
As we age, the skin on our feet gets more thin and dry. The tissue loses its ability to spring back (elasticity). Our feet can get flatter as the arch loses strength, while bones shift and move.
Foot pain can make walking and exercise painful. This leads to muscle weakness, which leads to falls. It can change your gait, which in turn can change your posture and balance. It can make it difficult to find comfortable shoes that protect your feet from injury.
It helps to wear shoes with non-skid soles in the house. If your feet are prone to swelling, put the shoes on when you first wake up before they have a chance to swell. See a podiatrist (foot specialist) at least once a year, or if you notice any changes in your feet.
Inner Ear Disorders
The inner ear is a complex system of tiny canals filled with fluid. The position of the fluid changes as you move. A sensor in the ear then sends messages about this movement to your brain. This “vestibular” system orients your body to rotation and motion. Our sense of balance comes from these signals, along with sight and touch.
More than half of all Americans over age 60 have an inner-ear imbalance, or “vestibular disorder.” This leads to dizziness, vertigo, and falls.
To reduce risk, walk through your home and look for ways to limit head motion. Be sure you have stable furniture to hold if you get dizzy. Make sure your pathways are clear.
As we get older, the bladder changes. The elastic bladder tissue may toughen and become less stretchy. As a result, the bladder cannot hold as much urine, so you may have to go to the bathroom more often. The bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles may weaken. This makes it harder to empty the bladder fully and can cause urine to leak, called incontinence.
Bladder problems are common and can disrupt your life. If you have a sudden need to go to the bathroom, you may stand up too quickly. This can lead to dizziness or falls. You may have to get up several times during the night to use the bathroom.
Consider limiting how much you drink 2-3 hours before bedtime, if your doctor approves. Limit or avoid caffeine. Empty your bladder after meals, after naps, before bed, and before activity. Leave a night light on for safety with commode use at night.
Some vision problems can increase your risk of a fall. These include cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and Macular Degeneration.
Low vision affects people in different ways. Some may see things as “foggy” or “blurry” and have trouble seeing details. Some have trouble seeing if there is glare or bright light, while others have trouble if the lighting level is too low. Depth perception may be affected, leading to falls and injuries.
To reduce your fall risk, have your eyes checked routinely. Keep eyeglass lenses clean. Push chairs under tables when not in use. Ask family members and visitors to keep furniture in the same place, and always discuss any changes before rearranging. Get rid of clutter. This will reduce the risk of tripping and make it easier to find items you need when you need them.
Your A Path of Care nurse will teach you how to reduce your fall risk based on your medical condition.
4. Lack of Exercise
One in three adults age 60 and older suffer from “sarcopenia,” or severe muscle loss. This impacts the strength of your legs, hips, and core muscles. These are vital in helping you walk with the right posture. Loss of muscle mass also makes it hard to catch yourself if you trip.
Adding the right exercises to your routine can improve your balance and strengthen your muscles. Home health physical therapists will help you develop a safe exercise program based on your overall health.
If you have fallen in the past year or feel unsteady when you walk, home health may be able to help reduce your fall risk. Nurses can address medical issues that may cause dizziness or weakness. Physical Therapists can help with strengthening and flexibility. Occupational therapists can help you adapt your daily activities for safety.
Can Home Health Help Reduce Your Fall Risk?
To find out more information about how home health might be able to help reduce your fall risk, get in touch. You can also call our office at (405) 407-1313. Home health services are covered by original Medicare and some other insurance plans with no out-of-pocket expense to you.