Exercise Physiologist and Certified Health and Wellness Coach
“Knowing what can lead to falls and how to avoid them is key in preventing them.”
Simple steps can help prevent serious falls
It’s happened to all of us. A slip, a stumble, a misstep that causes your legs to buckle from underneath, and suddenly you find yourself on the floor. As minor as these accidents may seem, in older adults, falls are a leading cause of serious injuries that can lead to significant rehabilitation, hospitalization and even death.
According to the Health in Aging Foundation, it’s estimated that one in every three adults, age 65 and older, falls each year.
“Falls among seniors can be attributed to many factors, including health problems and living environment,” says Rhonda Zonoozi, exercise physiologist and certified health and wellness coach at the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing.
Medical issues such as arthritis, heart disease, muscle weakness, dementia, vision changes and certain medications can increase the chance of falling. Around the home, things such a slippery throw rugs and poor lighting can cause falls, as well.
Fractured bones – coupled with emergency room visits and hospital stays – can be traumatic.
To prevent falls at home, she recommends inspecting rooms to make sure there are clear and open pathways free from furnishings and clutter. Loose carpets and rugs should be tacked down, cords bundled up, and lights added to dimly lit areas. For added precaution, grab bars can be installed near the toilet and bathtub, and no-slip decals or a rubber mat can be used in the shower. If you live alone, consider purchasing a medical alert device.
Also, if you’ve had a fall, let your doctor know right away. Tell them how it happened and the possible cause.
“Surprisingly, fewer than half of people who have fallen tell their doctor,” says Zonoozi. “It’s important to let your doctor know so he or she can determine if a medical issue may have led to the fall. One fall can lead to future falls if not addressed properly. A doctor can recommend exercises, refer to physical therapy, check vision, or change medication to reduce the risks.”
Exercise is one of the best lines of defense. “Exercises that increase leg strength are great for preventing falls. Strong legs help with walking and gait,” she says, adding that exercises that help improve balance are also beneficial. Overall good health and fitness can also help reduce the risk of falls.
“For most healthy adults, simply getting out and walking can do wonders,” Zonoozi says. “The general recommendation is 150 minutes of cardio exercise a week. If you’re just starting, begin with just a few minutes of walking each day and build up from there.”
Proper nutrition is important as well. Eat foods rich in vitamin D and calcium. “And if you can’t get everything you need in the food, a supplement may be recommended. Adequate water intake is also very important to avoid dehydration.”
Knowing what can lead to falls and how to avoid them is key in preventing them.
KEY TAKEAWAYS ON FALL PREVENTION
The primary causes of falls in older adults may be related to the side effects of medications, home environment, leg weakness or balance issues. The fear of falling also can be a factor.
In order to avoid or reduce falls, I recommend my clients tour their home, looking for hazards on the floors. Do they have to walk around furniture? If so, I suggest moving furniture to create a clearer path, as well as keeping floors clutter-free. For pet owners, I suggest placing a bell on the pet’s collar to be more aware of its presence. When walking their dog, I suggest staying on level sidewalks, instead of potentially hazardous grassy or rocky areas.
Certain exercises can help people avoid or reduce falls, such as those targeting leg strength. Stronger legs help with walking and gait, and going up and down stairs. Simply going from a seated position to standing, and building up to 10 to 15 repetitions, is a good way to increase leg strength. Simple balance exercises include practicing standing on one foot. Begin by standing on one foot with both hands on a table. As your balance improves, go from two hands to one hand, to a finger, to no support.
FOR MORE INFORMATION about fall prevention, contact the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing at 623-832-WELL (9355).