One in every three adults age 65 and older falls each year. From broken bones to brain hemorrhages, the ramifications of a fall can be devastating to the elderly and often mark the beginning of a path towards lost independence. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 21,700 Americans died from unintentional fall injuries in 2010. In addition to modifications that may need to be made to the home, there are many behaviors that you can modify in order to protect yourself from future falls.
Consider these steps to avoid a fall:
- Stay fit. Being active and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is the best way to prevent falls. A regular routine of weights, light cardio and stretching improves strength, endurance, balance and flexibility, making one less likely to fall in the first place. Additionally, exercise can slow bone loss from osteoporosis. This means you will have less risk of a fracture if a fall does occur.
- Nutrition. Be sure you are getting enough Vitamin D and calcium in your diet to promote strong bones and reduce your risk of hip fractures. If low appetite is a concern, talk with your doctor about adding supplements like nutritional shakes into your diet.
- Watch those side effects. Drowsiness, dizziness and sleepiness are common medication side effects that can make a person more likely to fall. For example, sleep aids like Ambien and Restoril, blood pressure medications such as lisinopril and metoprolol, and diuretics such as Lasix, all carry side effects that increase fall risks. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist about medication side effects, and take extra precautions to avoid falls while on medications. Do not abruptly stop taking prescription medications, unless advised to do so by your doctor.
- Optimize vision. Make sure to have your vision checked annually, and maintain your eyeglass prescriptions. It may also be a good idea to have a backup pair of eyeglasses, in case your favorite pair gets broken or lost.
- Ask for help. From blowing slippery leaves off the sidewalk, to changing light bulbs, everyone needs a little help every now and then. It’s good to be a “do-it-yourselfer,” but don’t put your health at risk.
- Accessorize. If you are a bit more unsteady lately, using a walking cane or walker may be just the thing you need to stay active. Talk to your doctor about resources for purchasing these items, and be sure they are the right size for you and in good condition.
- Get more sleep, and limit alcohol. It’s pretty straightforward. If you’re sleepy or impaired by alcohol, your balance and reaction times are dulled.
- Get up slowly. That lightheaded feeling that you get when you stand up too fast is due to a quick drop in blood pressure to your brain. Give your body a chance to equilibrate by taking a few seconds to transition from lying down to sitting up, then again from sitting to standing, and again from standing to walking. If you feel woozy, take a few more seconds.
- Tell somebody. Have a plan in advance of who you will call in the event of a fall. Even if you feel fine, have a family member or neighbor check on you, and be certain to let your doctor know about the fall at your next appointment. If you feel that you may have broken a bone, or if you’ve hit your head during the fall, the best course of action is to call 911 and get checked out at the emergency department.
- Centers for Disease Control. (September 20, 2013). Falls Among Older Adults: An Overview. Retrieved March 25, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/Falls/adultfalls.html
- Davis’s Drug Guide. (February 20, 2014). Drugs Associated with Increased Risk of Falls in the Elderly. Retrieved April 10, 2014, from http://www.drugguide.com/ddo/ub/view/Davis-Drug-Guide/109640/all/Drugs_Associated_with_Increased_Risk_of_Falls_in_the_Elderly
- National Institute on Aging. (March 24, 2014). Falls and Fractures. Retrieved March 25, 2014, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/falls-and-fractures
Amy McGowan, RN
St. David’s South Austin Medical Center
Intermediate Care Unit