From Our Experts-Maintaining Balance for the Elderly
Thanks to Interim Healthcare for providing this month’s Expert Article.
Falls are a leading cause of injury and hospitalization for older Americans. Approximately one in three Americans over the age of 65 falls each year. In other words, falls are a serious health risk for older adults.
As we age, our bodies undergo many physiological changes that lead to increased fall risk. For example, vision and hearing decrease, affecting balance. Reaction time is also affected because the messages our brain sends to our muscles don’t travel as efficiently. Therefore, we don’t respond as quickly to losses of balance or obstacles in our path. Additionally, there is natural reduction of muscle strength and flexibility, making simple activities, such as walking and getting out of chairs, more difficult. Although these changes are a normal part of aging, falls don’t have to be. There are many things you can do to stay safe, steady, and most importantly, on your feet.
Most falls occur within the home. A few simple environmental changes can make a big difference in terms of safety. First, remove clutter from walking paths and eliminate tripping hazards, such as loose throw rugs. Keep frequently used items in the easiest to reach places. Step stools can tip easily, so avoid them whenever possible. In general, keep living spaces well lit. We can’t avoid obstacles if we can’t see them. Use night lights, or keep a light by the bed in case you need to get up in the night. Bathrooms are a common place for falls. Non slip mats in and outside of the tub make wet surfaces more safe. Additionally, grab bars along the wall provide extra support while climbing in/out of the shower. Falls often occur when people rush to answer phones or get to the bathroom. Take your time when moving through your home
Staying healthy is also important for reducing fall risk. See your MD regularly. Those with chronic diseases spend more time in bed and are more likely to lose strength. Know your medications. People on 4 or more medications are more likely to experience side effects, such as lightheadedness or confusion, which can lead to falls. Consult your MD if you feel like you might be having these side effects. Our feet get us where we need to go, so take care of them – especially if you are diabetic. Check them regularly and wear good fitting shoes with non-skid soles. If you are supposed to use a device, such as a cane or walker, use it! They provide stability and will improve your stride and confidence while walking. A physical therapist can help determine what device is best for you and train you to use it properly. Finally, stay active. Keep joints mobile and muscles strong. Balance gets better with practice, so be up on your feet everyday to challenge your balance.
Remember, falls don’t have to be a normal part of aging. The best way to prevent falls is to take measures to keep yourself and your home safe.