Falling is not only unpleasant, but it’s dangerous. We often think of fall prevention as something that only senior citizens need to think about. Or we think that only parents of infants and toddlers need to worry about preventing falls. The fact is that anyone can fall. Falls can cause fractures, head injuries, bruises, bleeding, skin wounds and sometimes even death. They can worsen chronic pain conditions. Falls can also threaten our ability to live independently.
If you can answer yes to one or more of these risk factors, you’re at risk for falling.
Fall Risk Checklist
- Have you fallen before or almost fallen?
- Do you have balance problems?
- Do you have muscle weakness?
- Do you have chronic pain in your back or legs?
- Do you take more than 2 medications daily?
- Do you have trouble standing or walking?
- Do you have vision problems?
- Do you need to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair?
- Are you depressed?
- Do you take heart or blood pressure medicine?
- Do you get dizzy spells?
- Do you have hazards at home like: cluttered floors, no guardrails in bathrooms or on stairs, loose rugs, or wires laying across walking areas?
- Are you over 65 years old?
- Are you eating a healthy diet and maintaining your weight?
- Do you wear supportive shoes instead of floppy slippers, flip flops or socks?
Fall Prevention Strategies
#1 Inform your doctor.
Very few people tell their doctor when they have a fall. If you’re taking medications for pain, lung issues, blood pressure, heart problems or any other chronic condition, let your doctor know. Many medications can cause dizziness or a feeling that you’re going to pass out when you change your position. Your doctor may need to change the medicine or adjust the dose.
#2 Remove tripping hazards
- If you have wires running across walking areas, re-route them. If you don’t have an outlet where you need it, consider hiring an electrician to install one. Yes, electrician’s are expensive, but your health is priceless.
- Determine a home for items and teach yourself and others to put things away after use. My mother-in-law once broke her foot stepping on a toy on the floor at my house. She caught herself from falling, but ended up spending 6 weeks in a cast and needing crutches.
- Get rid of throw rugs and tack down loose carpeting or flooring.
#3 If you have been ill with an infection or in the hospital, inactivity will make you weak. Ask for help if you are feeling shaky or weak. There is nothing wrong with using help. It beats going back to the hospital or staying longer with broken bones or a head injury.
#4 Ask your doctor whether you need physical therapy or mobility aids. Doing strength and balance building exercises can lessen your risk for falling.
#5 Be as physically active as possible. Get up every hour and walk around (if you’re able). Fear of falling can actually make us less active, which makes falling more likely.
#6 Use a step stool or ladder to reach high items. Chairs are not safe alternatives even though they are usually easier to get to. I have to remind myself of this frequently. If you are unsteady, let someone else use the step stool or ladder.
#7 Use aids such as guard rails on stair cases and rails near shower/tub and toilet. If needed get someone to help you install them. Towel bars are too flimsy to hold your weight, so don’t use them to help yourself get up from the toilet or tub.
#8 If it’s icy or snowy outside, wear boots. You can take your shoes with you and change once you reach your destination. Boots can be heavy and unattractive, but not falling on the ice is worth more than being fashionable.
#9 Use good lighting. Walking in the dark or in low lighting increases your chance of tripping over something. It’s also harder to gauge distances in low light. If you wear glasses, put them on before that midnight trip to the bathroom.
#10 Avoid flip flops, slippers, and slippery socks. Shoes that tie, velcro, or buckle prevent losing a shoe that can lead to a fall.
#11 Be especially careful when walking on stairs. Don’t carry loads that are too heavy for you or too bulky to see around. Ask for help or make more trips with less stuff in your hands. Check the stairs for hazards before carrying a load up or down them.
#12 Read your medicine labels and information sheets checking for any effects that might increase your risk of falling.
#13 Finally, make sure you’re getting enough calories and nutrients each day with your meals. If you’re having trouble with eating and are losing weight, let your doctor know right away. Poor nutrition leads to muscle weakness, which increases your risk of falling. Dehydration can also cause weakness.
How To Fall Safely
Sooner or later we all fall. There are some things you can do to protect yourself during a tumble. The most important things to remember are to relax (exhale) and to bend your knees to get closer to the ground. Try to land on your padded parts like your upper arm or buttocks, instead of on your elbow, hands, tailbone or hip. Tuck your head to your chest to avoid hitting it on the ground. If you’re headed for a face plant, turn your head so that you don’t break your nose and teeth.
Then lie still for a moment and check your body parts for injury. Does anything hurt badly? If you’re alone and can’t get up, try to crawl to a sofa or chair to help get yourself off the floor. Ask any bystanders to give you a minute to check yourself for injury, before they help you get up. Getting up too fast can make an injury worse.
After you have calmed down, think about what happened. What caused the fall? Can you change something so it doesn’t happen again?
If the fall happened due to dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting make sure to let your doctor know.
If you lost consciousness for no apparent reason and are having difficulty speaking, blurred or double vision, and or weakness on one side of your body that wasn’t there before, you need to call an ambulance to rule out a stroke. Don’t wait or drive yourself to the emergency department, because treatment that happens within one hour of onset of symptoms is vital to return your functioning to pre-stroke levels.
This is the second in a series on safety topics for National Safety Month. If you missed the first one you can read it here. http://upbeatliving.net/be-medicine-savvy-essential-tips-you-need-to-know-free-e-book/
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