Falling is a common cause of injury and death for older people. In fact, 31 percent of Vermonters over the age of 45 report experiencing a fall that results in injury, and almost 200 Vermonters died after falls in 2020. But falling as we get older isn’t inevitable. We can take steps to prevent falls and live healthier into old age. There are three main things you can do:
Maintain your overall health.
This includes not smoking, staying physically active, eating a nutritious diet of whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting six to eight hours of high-quality sleep nightly, and limiting alcohol consumption to one drink a day for women and no more than two for men. These steps will help you maintain a healthy weight and adequate strength, and limit the effects of chronic illnesses.
Have honest conversations with your doctor and follow their advice.
It’s not easy to admit when we are having difficulty, but your doctor can’t help if they don’t know. Share any problems you’ve had with walking or balance, and always tell your doctor if you have fallen since your last checkup, even if you were not hurt.
Your doctor may evaluate your medications that may be making you sleepy or dizzy. They may also recommend having your vision or hearing tested, which can help reduce falls. They may recommend equipment, like a cane or walker, that can help you get around more safely. While these devices are not fashionable, they can greatly improve mobility and keep you living a fuller, happier life for longer. For example, people who use a walker are stronger, can walk faster and farther, and have less falls than people who do not.
Finally, your doctor helps you manage chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, foot problems, confusion and cognitive impairment, all of which can affect balance. Consider taking a balance class, chair yoga, or Tai Chi, which has all been proven to help prevent falls.
Remedy the hazards. There are three major hazards.
The first is footwear. Make sure your shoes fit well and serve function over fashion. Ideally shoes should have a soft rubber bottom, surround your entire foot, and latch or tie on to maintain a snug fit.
Fix the hazards at home. Common tripping hazards include throw rugs, pets that can get underfoot, hanging electrical cords and poor lighting. Wipe up spills and salt and sand walkways. Install grab bars, especially in the bathroom, where falls are common, and railings on walkways.
Finally, slow down.
Stand up slowly. Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop, which can make you feel wobbly. Don’t try to carry more than you can manage.
Falls and the fear of falling often cause people to be less active and more socially isolated, which only speeds the deterioration and increases fall risk. Conversely, learning ways to maintain activity safely reduces the chances of a fall.
Learn more about reversing your fall risk at fallsfreevt.com and the National Council on Aging, where you can take an online falls risk assessment.