As you get older, you need to start taking a more deliberate approach to preventing falls. Let’s call it your Fall Prevention Strategy. For most people, the age of 65 is a good time to start taking it seriously.
By that age, your odds of falling are about 1 in 3, according to the CDC.
There are many instances where you may need to develop a Fall Prevention Strategy well before you turn 65, however. For example, you may need to create one for your elderly parents who are “aging in place.” Or you may need one for yourself after starting a new medication.
We couldn’t possibly provide a comprehensive list of every single risk factor that can lead to a fall. That list is a mile long. We also can’t provide a one-size-fits-all Fall Prevention Strategy. But we can at the very least get you pointed in the right direction and fill you in on some commonly-overlooked ways to prevent a visit to the ER or orthopedic doctor.
First of all, let’s categorize risks into three categories: medical, lifestyle, and environmental.
Any single factor, such as a slippery surface, can cause a fall, but when you combine factors, the risk multiplies. As an example, walking down a dark hallway littered with toys while intoxicated is a situation that combines several risk factors. All of which were preventable, by the way.
Some factors might not be so easy to prevent, however. Medical risk factors — those resulting from an impairment, disability, neurological disorder, or other medical condition — may be the most difficult to avoid. In these cases, you will need to consult with your primary care physician or specialist.
You can, however, control factors associated with lifestyle choices and environmental hazards. Most of the actions you can take boil down to common sense, such as:
Installing handrails and grab bars
Securing loose area rugs
Cleaning up spills immediately
Avoiding excessive alcohol
Wearing proper footwear
Getting an annual eye exam
Now, let’s look at some commonly-overlooked ways to prevent a fall:
This may sound counterintuitive, because sitting in a recliner is such a low-risk activity, but an active pastime such as pickleball or cycling will give your overall health and quality of life a boost. Or maybe an exercise program is your best option. Agility, strength, balance, and coordination can be improved dramatically with an exercise program. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about a program individually tailored to your capabilities and geared toward preventing falls.
Choosing a healthy diet
Exercise won’t do you much good if you’re not supplying your body the nutrients it needs for strong bones and muscle. A licensed dietary nutritionist is a great resource for developing a diet to suit your specific needs.
Watching out for pets
Cats and dogs would never intentionally harm their owners, but according to the CDC, they actually cause over 80,000 falls a year. Both dogs and cats are tripping hazards. Obedience training may be a consideration if a dog is prone to jump when excited or pull you off balance when leashed.
Minimizing household hazards may involve a little bit of heavy lifting. Changing the layout of a room can make a big difference in keeping walkways wide and clear of obstacles.
Keeping things within reach
Bending down or climbing a step stool can be dangerous as you get older. If you find yourself doing these things often to grab shoes, clothes, dishes, or other frequently-used items, it may be time to evaluate your storage situation.
Designating a play area
Grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) have a tendency to leave toys scattered around the house. A dedicated play area will keep these tripping hazards out of the way.
Avoiding risky behavior
If you catch yourself saying “I’ve been doing it for 40 years. Why change now?” and you’re referring to cleaning the gutters or Jell-O shots, you should probably think twice.
Check out these online brochures for more information:
Home Safety is Bone Safety — AAOS (pdf)
What You Can Do to Prevent Falls — CDC (pdf)