Falls are a serious health care concern for the older adult and the people that treat them. According to the NIH, 1.6 million older adults go to the emergency room for fall related injuries. Falls are not only responsible for many of the injuries that are suffered by older adults, but they often lead to decreased independence. Understandably, fall prevention is a concern for a lot of people.
Fact: Each year one out of every three adults will experience a fall after the age of 65
Fact: Among those adult 65 years and older, falls are the leading causes of injury
For many people, most of their falls happen right in their home. As we get older, objects that before went unnoticed can now become dangerous obstacles. Things such as stairs, carpets, dimly lit hallways, clutter, and even small pets can cause a person to be at an increased risk of falls. Luckily, there are easy solutions to help prevent falls risks by making slight adjustments to your home environment.
There are a number of risk factors for falling, including:
- Muscle weakness
- Balance and how you walk
- Low blood pressure
- Vision problems
- Cognitive impairment (including mild cognitive impairment, or MCI)
More Info About Trips and Falls
The Wall Street journal published an article on “From Athletes to the Elderly: The Science of Trips and Falls.” Here at Great Moves Physical Therapy, we understand our balance system is made up of 3 major systems – visual, vestibular (inner ear’s response to head and neck motion), and proprioception (awareness of the position of one’s body).
This article talks about how each step we take requires complex coordination of foot placement, arm movement, trunk angle and neck and head motion. “Every step is different from the one before with slight variation in stride length and width and the angle at which the foot hits the ground, as well as small shifts in weight in the torso. Our bodies must constantly make miniscule adjustments to accommodate these variations.” Natural age-related or injury induced change to 1 or more of these systems creates an increased challenge for us to stay balanced.
Do a self-assessment. Do you evenly swing your arms while walking? Are you placing your feet straight ahead, in line with your hip bones? Does this hurt when you force it? Do you walk bent over? Do you lose your balance when turning your head side to side or up and down while walking?
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be time for physical therapy.
Fall Prevention Tips
Clear The Road: This means picking up any small object from heavily trafficked areas such as hallways. Pick up shoes, books, papers and other small clutter from the area. Also make sure you move any electrical cords that may be crossing your path. You can do this by taping your electrical wires to the walls.
Rug In or Rug Out: Small rugs, especially on hardwood surfaces can have a tendency to slide out from underneath your. Make sure that you either secure small rugs with a non-skid backing, or remove them altogether.
Step to Safety: Make your stairway a safer place! If you do not have a handrail on your stairwell, put one in. This will help to maintain stability and support you as your ascend and descend your steps. Also make sure that the stairs are clear of any clutter.
Let There Be Light: Make sure that long hallways are adequately lit along every room in your home. If a light bulb goes out, make sure you change it so that the room can get the proper amount of light. During the day, you can also open the blinds to let in natural light.
Clean The Tub: The bathroom can often be the most dangerous place due to many slippery surfaces that can get worse when we add water to the equation. Place non-skid rugs or place mats in areas where there might be water spillage. Also place handrails and grab bars in the tub and near the toilet to help with support and stability.
It is also getting to be that time of year when the weather outside is frightful. With colder weather approaching, the risk of falls will increase dramatically from slips on the ice. Be extra careful when walking outside and watch out for those icy patches!
Exercise Can Help Prevent Falls
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to prevent falls. Some homes can be equipped with hand bars and railings throughout the house. Have a person assist you getting up and down stairs or using the restroom. But did you also know that exercise can help you from falling?
It is easy see to how the first couple of problems could be helped by exercise. But did you know that it’s possible that the last one can as well? Recent studies (like this one) are showing a possible link between regular exercise and decreased risk for developing MCI. For improving quality of life, both decreasing fall risk and increasing cognitive abilities are extremely important.
The good news is the exercises don’t have to be that time-consuming, difficult, or require expensive equipment. Many exercises you can do in the comfort and convenience of your own home. But it’s important to first talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Also, be sure to talk to a certified medical provider who specializes in treatment for imbalance. Not all personal trainers at common gyms have imbalance or cognitive impairment training.
Get the Right Exercise and Fall Prevention Training
If you would like to get started on an exercise program to help prevent falls, talk to one of our physical therapists at Great Moves. It doesn’t cost anything to learn what we can do for you. Call us at (719) 477-6870 to schedule a free initial consultation.