Winter has arrived and so has the ice! Synonymous with ice is falls. Falls occur regardless of age, but the risks do increase as we age.
Statistically speaking, after the age of 65 the odds of falling are one in three. Fortunately, most of these falls aren't serious but then some are. In addition, falls are shown to be the leading cause of injury and injury-related deaths among older adults. Falls become more prevalent with age due to physical changes, medical conditions and medications taken for those conditions. Fear of falling is very real, and in the absence of action can come to rule your life. In an effort not to allow falls to rule your life, understand that many falls and fall-related injuries are preventable. The following fall prevention tips, adapted from Maine Health and Mayo Clinic, will help you to avoid falls:
1) Get an annual check-up. Begin your mission for fall prevention by seeing your doctor at least once-a-year, allowing him or her to look at your health and medications. Medications can interact with one another so using one pharmacy is also important. Other topics to be discussed in an effort to devise a fall prevention plan for you may include an assessment of your environment and your fall history. Recommendations can then be made to begin specific exercises that will empower you to improve your strength and flexibility, thereby improving your physical balance.
2) Be physically active. Your mission must include efforts to be physically active. If you aren't participating in a formal exercise class, ask your doctor what exercises would be best for you. After getting your doctor's OK, as mentioned above, your ensuing efforts to be physically active will serve to empower you to not only improve your strength and flexibility but to enhance your balance and coordination. Various activities to consider may include walking, tai chi, yoga, dancing, or water-type activities. If the thought of exercising frightens you (e.g. afraid you may fall), then you may want to get a referral from your doctor to see a specialist who can work with you one-on-one.
3) Choose footwear that is safe. Your fall prevention mission should pay special attention to safe footwear, which includes being properly fitted and wearing shoes that are enclosed and have a rubber-type sole. It includes avoiding high heels, narrow heels and/or extra-thick soles. If bending over to put shoes on makes you feel like you're losing your balance, consider using a long shoe horn that allows you to put your shoes on without bending over, or opt for slip-ons.
4) Be aware of in-home hazards. A fall prevention mission cannot be effective without awareness of your environment and action taken to make it safer. Begin by taking a look around your kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom, hallways and stairways for clutter and decorative accents that may impede you when least expected. Safeguard your environment by moving cords as well as other items in the walking path (e.g. coffee tables, magazines, newspapers, plant stands, etc.). Secure loose rugs, ensuring they all have rubber backs. Repair loose pieces of wood and carpets on floors and/or steps. Store necessities within easy reach, avoiding use of step stools and/or ladders. Escape possibly slipping by cleaning up floor spills as soon as they happen, using non-skid floor wax and using no-slip mats in the bathtub/shower.
5) Keep your living space well-lit. Take lighting into account as you move forward with your fall prevention mission. As you know, your eyes change with age and it is helpful to use high-watt bulbs (e.g. 100 or more), while not exceeding the wattage rating on the lamp or fixture. Other lighting tips include night lights in bedrooms, halls and bathrooms and having a bedside lamp within reach for night-time arousal. Also, keep a flashlight in an easy-to-find place in case of a power outage.
6) Use an assistive device when needed. If your doctor recommends an assistive device, understand that heeding his or her advice is critical with regard to your fall prevention mission. This would likely include a cane or walker. Many other assistive-type devices have been developed over the years, and using them simply equals safety. Items to consider include a raised toilet seat, grab bars and/or a sturdy seat for shower/tub areas, non-slip treads for bare steps and handrails on both sides of all stairways.
In closing, be aware of an excellent community resource for balance improvement. A research-based program called A Matter of Balance (MoB) is piloting now at the Cedar Falls Community Center. This research-based 8-week class is being referred to by the National Council on Aging as a model health program for communities. The following bullets provide information related to the classes: MoB classes help participants learn to:
-view falls and fear of falling as controllable.
-set realistic goals for increasing levels of activity.
-change their physical environment to reduce fall risk factors.
-promote physical activity with a goal to increase strength, flexibility and balance.
MoB classes are designed to benefit community-dwelling older adults who:
-are concerned about falling
-have sustained a fall in the past.
-restrict their activities because of concerns about falling.
-are interested in improving flexibility, balance and strength.
-are age 60 or older, ambulatory and able to problem-solve.
Together with FitXpress, Hawkeye Valley Area Agency on Aging (HVAAA) wants to offer MoB classes not only in Cedar Falls, but across the counties HVAAA serves (e.g. Black Hawk, Butler, Bremer, Buchanan, Poweshiek, Hardin, Tama, Grundy, Marshall and Chickasaw). A fee of $15 is applicable for materials only, and a minimum of 8 participants are required. For more information and/or to get your name on a waiting list for a MoB class, call Nikki Carrion at 1-319-404-4219 OR 1-800-481-7449. Call now to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance your fall prevention mission.
Sources: Maine Health Partnership for Healthy Aging; 2009. Mayo Clinic, 2009.