Nobody likes to fall down. It’s an embarrassing and, as you get older, increasingly dangerous situation. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. In fact, 25% of Americans ages 65+ fall at least once each year; what’s worse, falling once doubles your chances of it happening again.
But you don’t have to let such alarming statistics worry you. Instead, there are practical measures seniors can take to help prevent potential falls. Some will seem like common sense that most folks simply put off doing, while others may be a little more thought-provoking. In any case, we’ve put together a list of strategies to help prevent falls for seniors.
Go for Regular Eye Exams
Visiting an optometrist or ophthalmologist is important. They can make sure your prescription is up to date and that you’re using the right glasses. For seniors, eye exams are recommended every one to two years. (If you can make the effort to do it annually, you should.)
Wear the Right Shoes
You may love those heels and flip flops when you’re young, but they can unfortunately make you prone to falls as you get older. It’s best to toss them aside in favor of your safety. Instead, wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles. It’s also important to note that different shoes are more appropriate for different environments; for example, athletic shoes may not be great on wet surfaces, while thick, rubber soles can be dangerous in carpeted areas.
Light up your Home
It may sound like a no-brainer, but you can prevent trips and falls by keeping your home brightly lit. Definitely turn lights on before going up or down the stairs. You can also put night lights in bedrooms, hallways and bathrooms. It’s also a good idea to place a lamp on your nightstand, so you have easy access to a light source if you need to get up in the middle of the night.
Meet with your Healthcare Provider
Much like setting up regular eye exams, it’s even more important to make an appointment with your doctor. You’ll want to discuss what over-the-counter and prescription medications you’re taking. Your doctor will tell you if your medications have any interactions or side effects that may increase your risk of falling. Ask if any of your health conditions, like certain eye or ear disorders, increase your risk of falls. Be sure to mention how you feel when you walk, and if you have dizziness, joint pain or any shortness of breath, and discuss if you’ve fallen before. Afterward, you can figure out some specific strategies to help prevent future falls.
After you speak with your doctor, consider doing activities that keep you moving. The most popular ones include walking outdoors, swimming, yoga and Tai Chi. These activities can help boost your balance, strength, coordination and flexibility. If you’re afraid to participate in such activities because you’re worried about falling, your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist. The therapist can create a custom exercise program to help boost your muscle strength, gait and more.
Remove Home Hazards
Just like with childproofing, it’s important for seniors to scan their homes for potential hazards. Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, tacks or a slip-resistant backing. (Or remove them all together). You should also remove newspapers, phone cords and electrical cords from walkways. Immediately repair any loose wooden floorboards or carpeting. Also, relocate any plant stands, coffee tables or magazine racks from high-traffic areas.
Take Advantage of Assistive Devices
You may need some tools that can help keep you steady. For example, your doctor may suggest that you use a walker or cane. You might want to install hand rails on both sides of stairways. In the bathroom, consider putting in grab bars or rails in or around the bathtub, shower and toilet. When installed securely and properly, grab bars give you something to hold onto if you slip and help you balance as you sit or stand. (Remember: A soap dish or towel rack isn’t a substitute for a grab bar; it’s not designed to hold your weight.)
If you have a low toilet seat in your bathroom, consider this: A toilet with a higher seat or a toilet seat extender can help you get up safely with less effort. It’s also worth considering putting a seat or bench in the shower or tub. That way you’ll have a place to sit.
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