Q: I had an aging aunt who fell and broke her hip. She was never the same after that. Now that I’m old myself, I’m worried about falling. What should I do about this?
A: Well, first of all, you can’t go around worrying about falling or you won’t be relaxed; that can lead to a fall. So, you should concentrate on employing techniques to avoid falls and then don’t let the fear take over you mind. But a respect for the dangers of falling is justified by the statistics.
Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma. Of all fall-related fractures, hip breaks cause the greatest number of deaths and lead to the most severe health problems and reduced quality of life.
As we age, the power of our senses, reflexes and coordination diminishes. Maladies and the medicines we take for them can contribute to balance problems. Then there's osteoporosis—a disease that makes bones more likely to snap.
There are many steps you can take to prevent a fall and the possibility of breaking a bone. I’m dedicating the remainder of this column to the best tips I collected from a variety of experts:
- Get your bones tested. Your doctor can prescribe medications that will make your bones harder to break.
- Regular exercise makes you stronger and keeps your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking may slow bone loss from osteoporosis.
- Alcohol impacts your reflexes and balance. Elaboration is unnecessary.
- Get up slowly from lying and sitting to avoid feeling light-headed.
- Avoid temperature extremes in your home; they can make you dizzy.
- Wear rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes.
- Always hold the handrails on stairways.
- Don't stand on a chair to get to something. Buy a “reach stick,” a grabbing tool you can find at many hardware stores.
- Clear floors where you walk.
- Never carry any package that will obstruct your view of the next step.
- Mount grab bars near toilets, tubs and showers.
- Place non-skid mats, strips, or carpet on all surfaces that may get wet, especially bathtubs and shower stalls.
- Let the soap suds go down the drain before you move around in the shower. If you are prone to falling, use a shower chair and a handheld shower attachment.
- Put night lights and light switches close to your bed.
- Use bright bulbs in your home.
- Keep your telephone near your bed. During the day, keep a portable phone with you so you won’t have to walk to answer it.
- Tack down all carpets and area rugs.
- Close cabinet doors and drawers so you won't run into them.
- When it rains or snows, consider using a cane.
- Use a shoulder bag, fanny pack, or backpack to leave hands free.
- Check curb heights before stepping down.
- When entering rooms, look for differences in floor levels.
- Insure that every room in your home has a light switch near the entrance.
- Practice balancing. Hold onto something such as a countertop and stand on one leg at a time for a minute. Gradually increase the time. Try balancing with your eyes closed. Stand on your toes, then rock back to balance on your heels. Hold each position for a count of 10.
- Be especially careful around pets.