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Preventing Falls

As we age, our muscles lose strength and flexibility, and our reflexes slow, making falls more likely. Falls are the No. 1 cause of emergency room visits for adults older than 45, and they account for 87% of all fractures among people 65 or older.  People who are frail don't recover as well from injuries, so even minor falls can cause serious problems.  Although a fall can happen to anyone, there are things you can do to prevent one.

Common causes of falls

Most falls in older adults are caused by:

  • Medical problems related to aging, such as muscle weakness, slowing reflexes, and diseases that can affect balance, like diabetes, heart disease, nervous system disorders and circulation problems.
     
  • Home safety hazards like poor lighting, clutter on stairs and loose carpeting.
     
  • Drowsiness/dizziness caused by prescription medicines, especially those for high blood pressure, diabetes or depression.
     
  • Poor vision, often as a result of myopia or cataracts.

 

Falls on sidewalks, parking lots and curbs make up at least half of all falls suffered by seniors each year. When walking outside, keep your hands free by wearing a fanny pack or backpack. Take extra care when walking on rough, uneven or slippery ground—use a cane or walking stick if needed. If you live in a climate with cold winters, ask for help putting down salt on steps and sidewalks.  

How to prevent falls

  1. Exercise - One of the best ways to prevent falls is to improve your strength and balance with exercise. Tai chi and yoga programs are great, low-impact exercise options.
     
  2. Check your medications – Make sure to review your medications with your doctor. If you take four or more prescription drugs, you have a greater risk of falling.  Medications can combine in unexpected ways to cause dizziness, drowsiness, or other side effects. Drugs that may increase your risk of falling include antidepressants and antipsychotics, sleep aids, muscle relaxants, and over-the-counter cold and allergy medications.
     
  3. Make your home safer - Have you fall-proofed your home? You can reduce your risk by installing safety rails and non-skid mats in showers/tubs. Remove tripping hazards, such as loose rugs, raised thresholds and power cords from walkways, and keep stairs free of clutter. Make sure your home is well lit—especially the paths to the bathroom and kitchen.
     
  4. Check your vision - Have your vision checked once a year. Bifocal or trifocal wearers should take extra care when stepping off curbs or climbing stairs. These types of lenses can make things seem closer or farther away than they really are.