Reducing Your Fall Risk
By Vanessa Ohnes-Verduguez, MD, Guardian Hospice, Texoma LIVING WELL Magazine
There are normal changes as we get older. Eyesight and hearing declines, reflexes tend to slow down, and there is less coordination and muscle strength to take action in avoiding a fall. In the elderly, this increases the risk of serious injuries that may cause you to go to a hospital or even threaten your ability to live on your own. Falls and mobility disorders are common problems that cause more bone fractures because osteoporosis (weak bones) affects one in four women age 60 or older and nearly half of all people over the age of 75. Medical conditions like heart disease, low blood pressure, or arthritis can also affect your balance. Often, people are not aware of the fall hazards they have in their own homes. Let’s examine a few common causes that lead to falls and look at some solutions that may help you prevent future harm.
Weak legs, unstable walking, or trouble keeping your balance can lead to falls. We offer different medical treatments for this. We can recommend a specific exercise program to try to improve your symptoms and lower your chances of falling. Senior centers have programs like low-impact or water aerobics classes. There may be Tai Chi (a gentle form of Chinese exercise shown to improve balance), and walking programs as well. Exercise daily to keep muscles in tone and help prevent osteoporosis. We recommend physical therapy if you have already had an injury or are just starting to use a device like a cane or a walker. This can make you stronger and more secure in walking. Include calcium rich foods in your diet (milk, yogurt, cheese, fish and shellfish, broccoli, soybeans, etc…) with vitamin D in order to improve the absorption of calcium. Even though vitamin D is formed naturally in the body after exposure to sunlight, some older adults may need a supplement.
Poor vision can cause mobility issues. You need to have your eyes checked at least once a year, or more often if your vision changes. Any issue can alter your depth perception and your peripheral vision causing you to fall. Even keeping your eyeglasses clean can be a simple way of preventing a fall.
Certain types of medications may increase your chances of falling. Make a list of your prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines. Go over this list with your doctor. You should do this at least once a year. If you change or add a new medication, your doctor should review the list again.
Your home can be a cause of some falls. Poor lighting, loose rugs, and objects or furniture in walking areas are hazards. Relatively minor changes may help prevent a future injury––changes like having light switches at both ends of the stairs and hallways. Have a small nightlight on in case you need to get up at night. Secure all loose rugs. Try to have nonslip floors or nonskid mats, especially on floors that may get wet. Install grab bars in the bathroom. Arrange furniture so it is not in the way when you walk around the house. Do not use long clothing items you can trip over. Store food and regularly used items where they can be easily reached. A good way to be successful preventing possible future injuries is to involve your family in making your environment a safer one.
Falls can be prevented in your daily activities; get up slower after lying down or resting. Sit down if you feel lightheaded. Stop and rest if you feel faint. Wear rubber-soled, low heeled shoes that fasten securely. Limit your use of alcohol. Exercise daily to keep muscles firm and joints flexible. But if you fall, even if there appears to be little or no injury, call your doctor. If you have severe pain, call an ambulance and get immediate treatment. It is possible to fracture a hip and still be able to get up. Your doctor or an emergency department physician will examine you and may determine if further tests are necessary. In addition, a fall may be the first symptom of other serious illness. Make your doctor aware of your falls and any concerns about your walking or balance. After you have fallen, our priority is to find out what caused it, and together come up with a plan to reduce or prevent future events in order to help you get around safely.
Vanessa Ohnes-Verduguez, MD, specializes in internal medicine and geriatrics at Texoma Medical Center in Denison, TX. She may be reached at 903-416-6105.