By Priscilla Salgado, Shaneeya Cooper, and Cindy Lovetro.
Taking a fall is never enjoyable. But if you’re an older adult, it can cause serious health issues and even take years off your life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injuries (fatal and non-fatal) among people over 65. Falls lead to more than 800,000 hospitalizations a year. And 60% of falls occur in the home.
As we age we generally don’t have the same agility and flexibility we did when we were younger. Our bones lose strength and density (osteoporosis), making the consequences of a fall much more serious, including fractures and broken bones. Other health-related issues like vision impairment and low blood pressure (often caused by standing up too quickly) can contribute to a loss of balance, increasing the likelihood of falling.
And it’s not just the fall that causes problems. The resulting lack of mobility as a person recovers can reduce both the quality of life and the number of years of life one has left. It can lead to social isolation, depression and, potentially, the inability to continue living independently.
But falls are preventable and don’t need to be an inevitable part of aging. Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of falling.
Around the house:
• Keep paths clear of clutter, including electrical cords, shoes and papers.
• Get rid of throw rugs or use double-stick tape to secure them to the floor.
• Install grab bars in the bathtub and consider a shower bench. Place non-slip mats in the tub and on the bathroom floor.
• Use nightlights so you can see where you’re going after dark.
• Make sure there are sturdy handrails on all stairways.
In your daily routine:
• Wear sensible footwear. Shoes should fit properly and have a good tread to give you traction. Avoid slippers with no back—they’re not a good idea!
• Don’t let a fear of falling limit your activity. Walk regularly and do gentle exercises (like tai chi) that strengthen your legs and improve balance. Look online or check with your local community center about exercise classes for seniors.
• Consider a medical alert button that can be worn on the wrist or around the neck. These devices allow you to summon help immediately if you fall or suffer an injury.
• Contact the local nonprofit Lifespan, which can connect you with resources to support a healthy lifestyle.
Most importantly, tell your doctor if you’ve fallen or are experiencing dizziness or a lack of balance. He or she can assess the situation, provide appropriate treatment and refer you to a physical or occupational therapist if warranted.
By taking the proper steps you can stay healthy while staying on your feet!