How to prevent falls and stay safe as your body evolves
A clumsy slip and fall, too much time in the sun or a late night drive home may not seem like a big deal when you’re young. However, as you age, minor bumps, bruises and injuries can be a major setback. Your body changes, and physical limitations may make it harder to do some of the things you once enjoyed.
"One of the most serious issues that affects the elderly are fall-related injuries, such as a broken hip," explained Dr. James J. McKenna III, DO, a primary care physician specializing in geriatric care and family medicine at Geisinger Mount Pleasant. "Many people lose their independence after an injury and can no longer live on their own because they never fully recover."
But there are steps you can take to prevent falls and enjoy life while working with your evolving physical capabilities, whether they’re adjustments around the house or exercises. Here are seven tips.
1. Keep your bones strong
Elderly people are at higher risk of osteoporosis and bone loss. But getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet can help prevent bone loss.
"Talk with your doctor to see if you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. If you are not, they can recommend small diet changes or supplements that can help strengthen your bones over time," said Dr. McKenna.
2. Strengthen and improve balance
As you age, your muscles begin to weaken, which can make it more difficult to keep your balance when you stand up from sitting or climb steps.
To maintain strength and balance, try range of motion exercises like leg bends, leg lifts, heel raises and knee bends. Using a chair during these exercises can help you stabilize yourself between exercises until you grow stronger.
3. Get your vision checked regularly
It’s common for vision to change as you get older. Not being able to see clearly can increase the risk of falls. In addition, problems with sun glare during the day and night blindness at night may worse with age.
To prevent problems associated with these changes, it’s best to have your vision checked at least once a year. If you notice a change in your vision before your annual checkup, don’t wait for 12 months to go by for your next appointment - see your doctor sooner rather than later.
4. Stand up slowly
Standing up too quickly after sitting or lying down for a long time can cause lightheadedness from a sudden change in blood pressure. This dizziness can cause a loss of balance and an accidental fall. To prevent this, take your time and stand up slowly after sitting.
You may also want to get out of bed more slowly in the morning. Take time to sit up first and wait for ten seconds before getting out of bed to prevent lightheadedness and increase the chances of a fall.
5. Know the side effects of your medication
The medicines that you take—whether prescribed by your doctor or over-the-counter—could make you dizzy, sleepy or uneasy on your feet, which could cause a fall. It’s important to know what the common side effects of your medicines are.
"If your doctor prescribes a new medicine, ask about the side effects," said Dr. McKenna. "If you take more than one medication, you should also ask about the effects of combining medications, including possible dizziness or drowsiness."
6. Make sure your house is well lit and air conditioned
Whether daytime or night, make sure you can easily see where you’re going in your house. Replace light bulbs as they burn out, and place nightlights in your hallways so you have a clear view of the main walkways. Keeping a flashlight can also help you light the way if the power suddenly goes out.
Staying cool during the summer months is also essential as you age, since medical conditions such as heart disease and certain medications can make you more susceptible to the effects of the heat. Make sure you use your air conditioner, a fan or spend time in an air-conditioned public place during the hottest times of the day.
7. Remove obstacles
The carpet runner in your hallway, if not secured properly, could cause you to fall. So could electrical cords, the extra pair of shoes you left out and any other obstacles placed on the floor.
Take time to survey your house for hazards and remove them. If you spill something on the floor, clean it up quickly so it doesn’t leave residue on the floor. And take a close look at the hand railing on your steps to ensure it’s secured to the wall.