by Rein Tideiksaar, PhD
Falls can happen to people of all ages, but falls are more common and more serious for seniors than for all others. And if you injure yourself seriously in a fall, the consequences may profoundly affect your life, jeopardize your health, your sense of well being, and your independence. Although most seniors are not usually harmed when they fall, the chance of sustaining an injury is greater if the falls occur frequently.
Risk of Falling
Anyone can fall, but certain conditions or situations put seniorsat higher risk. For example:
This can keep you from seeing hazards and objects in your path, and lead to trips or slips.
Walking and Balance Problems
Disorders such as stroke, arthritis, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease may affect your muscle strength and reaction time. As a result, your balance control may not be quite the same as it was.
Use of Medications
Taking too much medication or the wrong combination of drugs can sometimes affect your judgment, coordination and balance.
Depression or Stress
This can make you less alert to surrounding dangers.
The good news is that many falls are preventable. In fact, there are several things that you can do to protect yourself against falling.
- Visit Your Doctor
- Get regular physical exams even if you're feeling fine.
- Have your vision checked regularly.
- Ask the doctor to review your medications for any side effects that can affect your balance.
- Make sure your doctor knows about all the medications you're taking (prescription and over-the-counter) so you can prevent harmful combinations of drugs.
- Tell your doctor about any falls or balance problems you've experienced. He may want to check you out and evaluate any medications you're talking.
Stay Active to Prevent Falls
- A regular program of physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your chances of falling and improve your sense of well being and confidence.
- Try to include such activities as dancing, gardening, and stretching exercises to improve flexibility and balance.
- Weight-bearing activities, such as walking and going up steps can strengthen muscles and bones. This can lessen the chances of injury if you do fall.
- Go out, take part in activities and be with family and friends. Being around other people can help ward off the blues and keep your mind alert.
Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program so you don't hurt yourself.
Make Your Home Safer
At least half of all falls happen at home. If you have fallen once, you have an increased chance of falling again. The best way to deal with any threats to safety in the home is through fall prevention.
It's a good idea to check your home for hazards that frequently cause slips, trips, or falls and eliminate as many potential trouble spots as possible. By making your home safe now, you can avoid a falllater.
You can further decrease your chances of falling by taking a few precautions when you go about your everyday activities. First, identify any unsafe activities leading to risk of fallsand, second, try to eliminate any hazards or obstacles interfering with safety.
Use this self-assessment checklist to help you.
What To Do If You Fall At Home
- Don't panic. Try to remain calm and assess your situation. Determine if you're hurt and whether or not you can get up.
- Slide, scoot, or crawl along the floor to a nearby couch or chair and try to get up.
- If you can't get up, call for help. If you are alone, try to make yourself comfortable and lie quietly until help arrives.
- If you live alone, consider getting an Emergency Response System. It will allow you to call for help if you fall and can't get up. Trained professionals receive your call and contact nearby family or friends. If nobody is available, an ambulance or the police will be sent to assist you.
Many falls can be prevented so it pays to assess your home and situation for fall risk on a regular basis.
Posted October 2005
Updated October 2009