How to prevent falls and stay safe as your body evolves
As we age, our bodies begin to change. Tasks that were once simple may take longer to complete.
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 become major issues. Physical limitations may make it harder to do some of the things you once enjoyed.
“Fall-related injuries are a very common, and serious, problem for older people. Even minor falls can be a huge setback for an older person. We want to educate folks on how to minimize their fall risk," says Dr. Kenneth H. Tomczyk, DO, family medicine physician at Geisinger’s 65 Forward Health Center in Scranton.
Preventing falls starts with you
1. Keep your bones strong.
Older people are at a higher risk of osteoporosis or bone loss. But getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet can help strengthen your bones.
“While osteoporosis is common in older people, if your doctor suspects a vitamin D deficiency, a simple blood test can measure your levels. Calcium and vitamin D are critical for bone health," says Dr. Tomczyk.
2. Strengthen and improve balance.
As you age, you lose muscle mass and strength, which makes it harder to keep your balance when you stand up from sitting or climb steps.
To maintain strength and balance, try range-of-motion exercises such as doorway stretches, ankle rolls, heel-to-toe walking, sit-to-stand exercises, shoulder rolls, knee-to-chest exercises and calf stretches. 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 your vision to change as you get older. Not being able to see clearly makes you more likely to fall. Additionally, problems with sun glare during the day and declining night vision may worsen with age.
To prevent such problems, 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.
“Older people sometimes put off eye exams and simply buy 'cheater glasses’ to get by, instead of getting proper corrective lenses. Improper vision can lead to falls,” Dr. Tomczyk advises.
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 lightheadedness 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 at least 60 seconds before getting out of bed to prevent lightheadedness that increases the chances of a fall.
5. Know the side effects of your medications.
The medicines you take — whether prescribed by your doctor or over-the-counter — may make you dizzy, sleepy or unsteady on your feet, which could increase your likelihood of a fall. It’s important to know what the common side effects of your medicines are.
“If your doctor prescribes a new medication for you, ask about possible side effects. Knowing what to expect beforehand gives you time to prepare for any potential side effects,” says Dr. Tomczyk.
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 summer is also essential as you age since medical conditions such as heart disease and certain medications make you more susceptible to heat. Be sure to use your air conditioner or 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.
Check 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 be sure it’s secure.
At Geisinger, we’re helping seniors live better, healthier lives. Through programs like Geisinger 65 Forward, we’re delivering more patient-centered care, designed with seniors’ needs in mind.