I have been developing a Fall Prevention program for Oakhurst area residents and the most poignant fact from the research has been this: if you are afraid of falling, you are more likely to fall! Those lacking confidence in their ability to stay upright tend to keep their eyes down and thus miss important obstacles. They often shuffle their feet, making it more likely to catch their foot on something and stumble. These two things alone will make anyone more prone to falling and, if you lack good balance, a simple stumble can result in a nasty tumble. The good news is there are many things you can do to prevent falls and preparing before a fall happens means maintaining your health and independence.
The emergency room sees 2.5 million older adults for injuries related to falls and a significant number of those are hospitalized for hip fractures. While it is bad enough to break a hip, if the elderly (or anyone for that matter) hit their head on a hard surface, traumatic brain injury can delay the process of getting back on your feet. My goal is to give you some ideas to make it less likely you, your spouse or parent will take a spill that could limit your independence and send you to a nursing home.
While fall prevention applies to the elderly in general, those who are rehabbing from certain disabilities or disease processes (COPD, Parkinson’s and arthritis, for example) can benefit from working on their balance as a way to avoid falls. One of the key components to balance is having strong feet and ankles as well as making certain that the muscles of the torso, or core, are strong. There are many of the reasons that a person’s balance might be poor — side effects to medications, poor eyesight, and lack of muscle coordination are just a few. Your doctor can address many of the medical risk factors including talking about side effects of medications. Exercising to increase core strength, and making sure your home is not a minefield waiting to trip you up, can greatly improve your chances of remaining injury free.
To create a safe home environment the Center for Disease Control recommends checking your household:
- Remove throw rugs and make sure there are no piles of magazines or other obstacles on the floor
- Make sure electrical cords are not crossing the area where you walk
- Grab bars should be installed in all bathrooms
- Secure hand railing by the stairs, both inside your home and out
- Lighting, especially near stairs, should be good—change the bulbs when they go out
- If you need to reach for things in the kitchen cupboard, rather than using a step stool, use a grabber (a tool designed to safely extend your reach)
The types of exercise you chose to improve your balance and prevent falls is important as well. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are gentle safe ways to develop balance. Classes specifically for seniors usually have a balance and strengthening component and senior yoga classes can improve your flexibility and the range of motion of your joints. You have lots of options in Oakhurst for senior classes as well as specific Fall Prevention classes so check them all out and see which is the best fit for you.
Falls can instill fear, create dependence, and even end lives. Don’t wait until you fall. Talk with your doctor about the medications that you’re on, have your eyesight checked and always take your cell phone with you when you go outside — if you do fall, you need to be able to call for help immediately. Create the confidence that you need so you can move through your day and your life safely.
If you have questions about falls, fall prevention or would like more resources, contact me through email or Facebook.
Read more of Virginia Eaton’s blog posts here.
Virginia Eaton is the owner of Oakhurst wellness center Class: The Body Pastiche