A fall can have big consequences for a senior. You could break a bone or find yourself stuck without an easy way to call for help (it’s a tired cliché, but it has happened). As you age, spending long periods in a hospital or bedridden because of a fall comes with a number of other potential consequences – you could catch a serious illness, you become stationary and don’t get the movement each day your body needs to stay fit and mobile, and you risk facing loneliness.
Which is all to say, the best option when it comes to senior falls is prevention. Fall Prevention Day falls September 22 this year and it’s a good reminder that falling isn’t inevitable and the stakes of avoiding it are high.
To protect yourself from the unnecessary pain and inconvenience that can be caused by a senior fall, here are a few steps you can take for fall prevention.
- Re-arrange your home to remove fall risks.
One of the first and easiest things you can do is go through your house and look for anything that might put you at risk of a fall. This likely includes rugs (particularly if they ever bunch up at points), pieces of furniture in spots that block your ability to walk through a room, and any other low-to-the-ground items positioned somewhere that would be easy for you to walk into without seeing. Remove the offending items or re-arrange your rooms (with help) as needed to minimize your fall risk. And stay on top of this, don’t let clutter start to fill those spaces in a month or two and put you right back at risk.
- Install grab bars in the bathroom.
Bathrooms are one of the most dangerous places in the house for seniors. The floor often gets slippery, the space tends to be tight and crowded, and stepping in and out of the bathtub becomes a risky experience with age. One thing you can do to make the space safer is install grab bars. You won’t have to struggle as much to get in and out of the tub or up and down from the toilet and you’ll have something to grab onto to help you avoid slipping on a wet floor.
- Use non-slip mats and tape.
Speaking of slippery floors, you can save yourself a lot of the risk there by buying non-slip mats to put in your bathroom and any other spot that’s of potential concern for getting slippery (your kitchen maybe, or by your front and back doors). Non-slip tape is another useful and cheap option, you can place it in key spots around the house to reduce the likelihood of ever slipping on the ground.
- Look into walk-in tubs and alternatives.
They’re expensive, but walk-in tubs reduce the risk of falling as you get in and out of the tub and could potentially save you from injuries that are more expensive in health care costs than the tub itself. If buying and having a whole new tub installed seems like overkill, you can also look into some more affordable alternatives to walk-in tubs that also reduce your risk.
- Do tai chi.
Tai chi is known to help seniors improve balance and thus prevent falls. It’s an ancient martial art that helps you strengthen the connection between your body and mind and it’s entirely safe for most seniors to do. Look into local classes or try out a video if there’s not a class in your area.
- Use a walker or cane.
If you’re finding it harder to keep your balance as you walk, then go ahead and invest in a cane or a walker. It may feel silly or strange to you at first to always walk with a cane or walker, but if it makes you safer, it will be worth it.
- Wear good shoes.
The right shoes play an important role in how big your risk of a fall is. Go for shoes with rubber soles that give you good traction. Avoid heels. And make sure any shoes you buy are reasonably comfortable, if the fit is off or they give you blisters, you might walk in a less natural way that makes a fall more likely.
Oh, and don’t walk around the house in socks or stockings. They can quickly make your floors more slippery than any amount of water on them can. Stick with shoes or go barefoot.
- Do balance exercises.
In addition to tai chi, there are a number of other balance exercises you can try. These will take you only a few minutes each day and can make a big difference in how comfortable you are walking and moving through the world. Make a habit out of doing a few here and there throughout your day.
- Install smart and voice-activated tech
While you do want to stay active generally speaking, cutting down on the times you have to get up to do something in the dark or when you’re tired can reduce your risk of falls. Voice-activated tech can be used for tasks like turning on the light, turning the temperature up and down, and changing the channel on the TV. These add a lot of convenience to life, but if being able to turn the air down with a command saves you from getting out of bed at night and walking across a dark house to do so, they also make you safer.
- Have your vision checked regularly.
Poor vision can often contribute to falls. You have a harder time seeing what’s in front of you and it can throw your depth perception off. In addition, research has shown that wearing bifocals can increase your risk of falls. Go in for regular vision checkups and, if you currently have bifocals, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Having the right glasses for your needs makes you safer.
- Pay attention to medicine side effects.
Some medicines have side effects that can make you more likely to fall. Some might not have those side effects on their own, but start to cause them once they’re mixed with certain other types of meds. Each time you start on a new medicine, talk to your doctor about the side effects and how it will mix with the other medicines you take. And pay close attention to how you feel – if you start to feel dizzy or off balance within a few days of starting new meds, talk to your doctor about it right away.
- Make sure loved ones or professionals are around to help out.
If you’ve taken care of yourself for a long time it can feel unnatural to call a friend to help you move a piece of furniture or try to reach for something on a high shelf. Even so, start getting in the habit of asking for help with the things that could put you at risk of a fall. Waiting until a loved one can come over to help you out is far preferable to months in a hospital bed recuperating. And if you find you need help with these types of things with some frequency, consider if hiring in-home care might be the best solution.
Falls can be dramatic and there will always be risks you couldn’t foresee. Do everything you can to reduce your risk in advance though and your chances of staying healthier and happier for longer will improve.