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Preventing Falling Injuries with Better Balance

Are you or someone you love afraid of falling? You are not alone.

In fact, the risk of falling increases with age.

Nearly 2 million older adults are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries, including fractures to the hip, spine, hand, arm, pelvis or ankle. Some falls can lead to traumatic brain injuries.

Fall-related injuries can lead to lengthy hospital stays, pain and mobility problems. Some falls can even be fatal.

Thankfully, most falls can be avoided with preventative measures.  Let’s take a look at six ways to prevent falls in older adults.

1) Exercise

Muscle weakness, especially in the legs, can be a risk factor for falling. Exercises that strengthen your abdominal area, back, hips and legs (including quads, hamstrings and calves) will improve your agility and balance.

Exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi will gently help you maintain or develop your sense of balance.

Low-impact exercises such as swimming, biking or walking will also improve your strength and overall agility, making falls less likely.

2) Hazards 

Remove or improve home hazards. Most falls happen right in the home. Here are some common risk factors:

Loose rugs such as throw rugs

Wobbly or missing handrails on stairways

Dark entryways or stairways

Wet or slippery floors

Floor or stair clutter

Lack of rails in the bathroom

You can reduce falls by making sure rugs are securely attached to the floor, repairing faulty staircases, adding extra lights in dark areas, keeping slippery floors dry,  removing clutter or adding handrails in bathrooms.

3) Medications

Some medicines or combinations of medications can cause drowsiness or dizziness. These side effects can increase your falling risk. Talk with your doctor and/or pharmacist about possible interactions between prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines and to minimize your risk.

4) Eye exams 

When was the last time you had your vision checked?  Vision problems can contribute to your fall risk. Be sure to have your vision evaluated by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear your corrective eyeglass or contacts when you are up and about.

Other vision problems contributing to loss of balance include cataracts, glaucoma or poor depth perception. Sometimes, wearing your bifocals as you walk up or down a flight of stairs can affect your sense of balance.

5) Physical exams

Underlying physical problems can cause poor balance, which can increase your risk of falling. Do you sometimes get dizzy when you get up from lying down or sitting down?

This condition is known as postural hypotension and is characterized by a drop in blood pressure. I can be caused by dehydration or a side effect of certain medications. Postural hypotension also may be linked with an infection, diabetes, or with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

6) Foot problems

Unsafe footwear can decrease your sense of balance. As you age, it is important to pay attention to the fit of your shoes, avoiding slip-on shoes, backless shoes, slippers and high heels.

Good shoes provide a firm base, a non-slip sole, some cushioning, and ankle support.

7) Common sense

An important way to prevent falls is to trust your instincts. If it is a cold and icy day, for instance, make sure you wear well-fitting boots with proper tread. Avoid walkways and driveways that have not been shoveled. If the weather is particularly bad, you might consider changing your outdoor plans until the weather improves.

If you have suffered a fall that does not need medical attention, it is still a good idea to talk with your doctor. It could be nothing, but it might be a symptom of a new medical condition that is affecting your balance.

The good news is that many underlying causes of falls can be treated or corrected. Your doctor may suggest a change in your medication or a change in your eyeglass prescription.

Your doctor may prescribe specific exercises, physical therapy or the use of a walker to help you maintain your balance.

When you follow these preventative steps, you will feel more confident in your ability to engage in normal activities and to live your life to the fullest.

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