Mar 8, 2019

A few years ago, I was wearing a pair of jeans that were too long.  I rolled up the cuffs and was heading down the stairs in my home when my toe caught the rolled up cuff.  I fell head first down the stairs and bashed into the wall below.  Thankfully, I was not hurt.  After the fall, it took me a while before I was able to go down any staircase without fear.  Now—three years later—I hold onto the railing very tightly whenever I go down any stairs.

The fear of falling as we age is a very real concern.  I think we all can tell a story of a friend or loved one who fell and experienced a life-changing injury.  The National Institute on Aging reports that more than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year.  For an older person, a fall can be the start of serious problems, such as injury, a hospital stay, or even disability.

Concern about falling can lead an older person to avoid activities such as walking, shopping, or taking part in social activities—even if they haven’t fallen previously.  The irony is that the likelihood of falling increases if a person doesn’t stay active.  If they allow fear to keep them inactive at home, they are more likely to fall.

There are several factors that help explain why older people are at higher risk for falling.  Poor eyesight can make it difficult to see a step, a throw rug, or a toy on the floor.  Certain medical conditions or medications can cause dizziness.

A person can lower their chances of falling.  Some falls don’t “just happen.” Here are a few tips to help you avoid falls:

  • Stay physically active. Talk to your doctor about what you can do safely to stay active.
  • Have your eyes and hearing tested. When you get new eyeglasses or contact lenses, take time to get used to them.
  • Find out about the side effects of medicines you take. If a drug makes you sleepy or dizzy, tell your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Stand up slowly.
  • Use a cane or walker if you need help feeling steady when you walk. Again, you should speak with your doctor to learn which might be best for you.
  • Be very careful when walking on wet or icy surfaces.
  • Wear non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes, or lace-up shoes with non-skid soles that fully support your feet.
  • Don’t walk on stairs or floors in socks or in shoes or slippers with smooth soles.
  • Be careful about long dresses or slacks that could trip you. 

There are many ways you can make your home safer.  Just a few include:

  • Keep cords away from areas where you walk
  • Remove loose carpets and rugs or tack down the carpets and only use rugs with non-skid backing
  • Add lights in dimly lit areas and at the top and bottom of stairs
  • Use nightlights in bedrooms, halls, and bathrooms
  • Clean up clutter – especially near staircases
  • Put handrails on both sides of any steps or stairs in or outside of your home
  • Add grab bars near the toilet and bathtub, and no-slip decals or a rubber mat in the tub or shower

If you are concerned about falling, you can register for an emergency response system. If you fall or need emergency help, you push a button on a special necklace or bracelet to alert 911. There is a fee for this service, and it is not always covered by insurance. You can call SeniorCare’s Information & Referral Department to get a list of services available in our area.

Always tell your doctor if you have fallen since your last checkup, even if you weren’t hurt. A fall can alert your doctor to a new medical problem or problems with your medications or eyesight that can be corrected. Your doctor may suggest physical therapy, a walking aid, or other steps to help prevent future falls.

At this moment, the icy conditions outside are treacherous.  Hopefully, spring will arrive shortly and all the snow and ice will be a memory until next winter.  Until then, tread carefully when you walk outside.