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Preventing Falls: Still Priority #1

Saturday September 22 was National Falls Prevention Awareness Day, so there’s no better time to refocus attention on doing everything necessary to improve physical strength and balance and create a safer home environment to cut down on the number of falls. According to recent research, up to 30 percent of seniors may fall in a given year. About 20 percent of people who fall need some amount of medical attention and just under 10 percent will break a bone—damage that can lead to pain and loss of mobility and be ultimately life-threatening.

Here are action steps you can take to protect your health:

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all the medications you’re taking, both prescription and over-the-counter. Some drugs and drug interactions can make you unsteady on your feet.
  • Talk to your doctor about having a physical therapist do a fall assessment on you. The PT will check your gait and make suggestions to improve how (and how well) you move.
  • Have your vision checked—if you can’t clearly see where you’re going, you’re more likely to trip and fall.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. You need protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy and omega-3 rich unsaturated oils (in small amounts) to stay healthy and strong.
  • Invest in resistance bands or light weights to exercise large muscle groups—muscle strength helps keep you active and upright. This should be in addition to regular walking or another form of aerobics for good conditioning.
  • Get a shoe check at the podiatrist. Poorly fitting shoes or shoes without the right support can also make you unsteady on your feet.
  • Have a loved one go a walk-through of your home to look for hazards that you might be overlooking. From stacks of magazines and newspapers to loose cords, it’s just too easy to catch your foot by accident and take a tumble. Loose carpeting on stairs and a rickety banister are other needed fixes.
  • Install grab bars in your bathrooms and consider a bed assist to provide support as you get in and out of bed (use on at your sofa if needed).
  • Get smarter about preventing falls. Your medical insurance provider may offer fall prevention education; so might your local senior center or hospital. Ask your doctor about any government endorsed and sponsored education and prevention efforts in your area (many will even teach you the “right way” to fall if you should feel yourself slipping). Right now, 43 states and Washington DC have Fall Prevention Coalitions that work with state and local agencies to educate people on the importance of preventing falls. That means there’s an excellent chance of finding a program near you. You can also learn more by visiting the National Council on Aging's Falls Free Initiative, the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence and the U.S. Administration on Aging.