Many people believe falling is just part of getting older, but that is not true. The risk of a fall may increase as we age, but there’s a lot that you can do to reduce these risks.
For many people, the fear of falling alone can increase their risk, even if they haven’t ever fallen. The fear creates a cycle that can actually make you more likely to fall:
If you are afraid of falling, you can become less active.
Less activity can lead to muscle weakness.
Muscle weakness leads to loss of balance and mobility.
This then increases your risk of a fall.
People fall for a variety of reasons, including:
Safety hazards in your home
Your overall health
Changes in your feet and posture
Lack of exercise
In this article, we’ll go over many of the most common causes of falls and share strategies for reducing your risk so you can be safe at home.
6 Common Home Safety Hazards
Many homes have common safety hazards that could increase your risk of a fall. Some of the hazards we see most often are:
1. Electrical or Phone Cords
To reduce your risk, make sure that all pathways are free of cords. When possible, keep a phone within reach and carry a cordless or cellphone with you. If you usually get dizzy when answering the phone, take your time. Rising suddenly can make you dizzy.
2. Rugs, Floors, and Slippery Surfaces
You can easily slip on loose rugs, so choose varieties that securely attach to the floor. If you prefer to have a mat by the sink or stove, make sure it is a non-slip surface. Be sure it doesn’t have turned corners or edges that could make you trip. Floor tiles should have texture so they are not slick.
3. Steps or Stairs
A handrail on both sides of the stairs is a big help with balance. You should also be sure that the stairway is lighted, with a switch at the top and bottom.
4. Tubs and Showers
Grab bars and non-slip floor mats around the tub are great ways to keep you steady in the bathroom. Consider a shower chair if you feel unsteady or dizzy standing.
Use night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and hallways. Don’t use chairs or step stools to change out-of-reach bulbs. Instead, ask someone for help.
Reaching can cause you to lose your balance. 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 home safety assessments when beginning care. They 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.
You can reduce your medication fall risk by:
Keeping a current list that includes non-prescription drugs, vitamins, supplements, drops, inhalers, ointments, etc.
Listing the amount you take, how often, and when you take it.
If it is a prescription medicine, note who prescribed it and why.
Keeping a copy in a safe place at home, and one in your wallet or purse.
Sharing this list with your doctor. Point out any changes, even with over-the-counter medicines.
When you receive care from a home health agency, it includes “reconciling” your medicines. That means creating a list of all the medications you take so your doctor has an accurate list. Your doctor can check for any medications or side effects that could increase your fall risk.
Sometimes your blood pressure drops if you stand up from a sitting or lying down position. This is called postural or orthostatic hypotension. A blood pressure change can make you feel dizzy or light-headed. It can even cause fainting and falls.
To reduce your risk:
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.
Keep your phone within reach.
This is a general term for loss of memory, language and problem-solving skills, and other thinking abilities. People with dementia are at increased fall risk because:
There are often problems with coordination. The brain struggles to send messages to the muscles for smooth movement.
Sometimes they may be confused about the environment. They may not perceive depth, light, colors, patterns, or temperature.
The loss of memory means it is difficult to retain new skills that might reduce fall risk.
To reduce risk:
Keep pathways clear. Remove clutter.
Use simple furniture arrangements. Remove small, unsteady tables or chairs.
Depression can actually increase your risk of falling. Certain anti-depressant medications can affect your balance and movement. The highest risk is when your body is adjusting to a new medicine.
If you are depressed, you may be less likely to socialize with others. You can become isolated. Staying at home or in your room can lead to weaker muscles and increased fall risk. Some people with depression may also have trouble sleeping. Your fall risk increases if you are drowsy or sluggish in the daytime.
To reduce your risk:
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 help relieve depression.
Talk to your doctor about any side effects of antidepressants. Do not stop taking depression medications because of a fear of falling.
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. Add daily wear and tear on your bones and joints, and it all leads to foot pain.
Foot pain can increase your risk of falling in several ways:
Walking and exercise can be painful. This leads to muscle weakness, which leads to falls.
It can change your gait... the way you walk. This can change your posture and balance.
Other diseases, like arthritis or diabetes, can increase foot pain and make healing difficult.
To reduce your risk:
Check your feet for changes in nails, numbness, burning, or tingling. Look for signs of injury, such as cuts or bruises that you don’t remember getting. This can be a sign you are losing feeling in your feet.
Wear shoes with non-skid soles in the house. If your feet are swollen, 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. 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 your risk:
Keeping your home safe with inner ear problems means setting it up to stay stable and use your other senses for balance.
Walk around 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. A less-stretchy bladder cannot hold as much urine as before. This might make you go to the bathroom more often (urgency or frequency).
Bladder problems are common and can disrupt your life. When you have a sudden need to go to the bathroom, you may stand up quickly. This can lead to dizziness or falls.
To reduce your risk:
Stop drinking fluids 2-3 hours before bedtime, if approved by your doctor.
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.
Vision problems can affect your depth perception, leading to falls and injuries.
To reduce your risk of a fall:
Have your eyes checked routinely. Keep eyeglass lenses clean.
In the bathroom, consider dark towels and mats if you have light walls or floors.
Get rid of clutter. This will reduce the risk of tripping and make it easier to find items you need when you need them.
Lack of Exercise
All of the situations above can also lead to less exercise, but exercise is very important in reducing fall risk.
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.
To reduce your risk:
Keep a sturdy chair, table, or kitchen counter within reach during exercise. Use it for support if you feel unsteady.
It’s safest to do exercises when someone else is home in case you need help.
Stop your exercise and check with your doctor or home health therapist if you have unusual pain in your knees, back, or hips.
Also stop if you feel dizzy, have chest pain or feel short of breath.
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.
To find out more information about how home health might help, please send us a message or call Sooner at (844) 301-4705. Home health services are covered by original Medicare and some other insurance plans with no out-of-pocket expense.