The National Institutes of Health reports that millions of older adults go to emergency rooms each year because of fall-related injuries. Treacherous walkways brought on by cold weather increase the risk of falling. And the consequences of falls can be serious. Falls cause broken bones, spinal cord injuries, bleeding and brain injuries. All of these injuries are more difficult to recover from as we age. The wisest approach is to prevent falls as much as possible. Here’s how.
Safeguard your overall health. In many cases, seniors fall because they are dealing with symptoms of another condition. Conditions that decrease sensations on their feet — like diabetes, poor circulation, complications from stroke and poor eyesight — lead to poor balance. Medications, even cold and flu remedies, can cause dizziness. See your doctor regularly and ensure that your chronic conditions are well-managed and that your medications are not causing unnecessary side effects. You can even ask for a fall risk assessment and get helpful recommendations tailored for you.
Follow your doctor’s recommendations. If your doctor has recommended that you use a walker or a cane, use it. People who use walkers are less likely to fall. They stay stronger and are able to walk further and stay walking longer than those who don’t.
Respect your limitations. If you are carrying items, make sure not to overload yourself. Leave one hand free to hold onto the railing. If climbing up on the roof or undertaking other potentially dangerous tasks seems unsafe, it probably is. At some point, we have to accept natural limitations in favor of safety.
Make movement a part of every day. Research shows that the best way to improve balance is through balance exercises or balance training. Regular exercise maintains muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and bone strength. Did you know a fear of falling increases your risk of falling? So, exercise is also useful in improving confidence. Consider working with a physical therapist for strengthening or connecting with your local senior center or other community group for free or low-cost exercise options, like Bone Builders, which are designed specifically for seniors.
Protect your health with a nutritious diet. Regular exercise is only one half of maintaining strong muscles and bones. The other half relies on leafy green vegetables and dairy products. Be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Doing so will support your exercise routine and encourage strong bones that both help you maintain your balance and reduce the chances of serious injury if you do fall.
Be careful in snowy and icy conditions. As the weather gets colder, clear and salt or sand your walkways or ask for help doing so. Wear rubber-soled shoes with a non-skid surface. Don’t rush, and don’t try to carry more than you can reasonably manage. If you are feeling tired or the weather is bad, don’t hesitate to cancel plans and stay at home.
Check the inside of your home, too. Clearing paths, removing throw rugs, and maintaining good lighting throughout your home are just a few of the many actions you can take to make your home safer.
Develop a safety plan. A good safety plan involves having a cellphone or personal emergency response system, like Lifeline, on hand; knowing how to get up after a fall; and committing to a doctor’s appointment to help determine the cause of the fall and whether you have any injuries. Injuries that appear to be superficial can be more serious, especially in older adults.
Falling does not have to be a part of the aging process. By following a holistic approach, you can prevent falls and the painful and debilitating injuries they cause.