What YOU Can Do to Prevent Falls

Jen Dunn, OTR/L
Marcus Daly Rehabilitation Center
1200 Westwood Drive
Hamilton, MT 59840
(406) 375-4570

What YOU Can Do to Prevent Falls
Working as an Occupational Therapist for 20 years, I have seen many clients with broken bones, head injuries and loss of independence due to falls.

According to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1.6 million Americans receive emergency room care each year for fall related injuries. Falls are the number one cause of death due to injury for people age 65 or older in the United States.

Falling is not an inevitable part of growing older. Many falls result from factors that can be changed. Visit with your primary care provider if you have concerns about falling or if you have fallen in the past. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.

Many falls are caused by an individual's physical condition or health issue such as:
  • muscle weakness in the legs
  • decreased balance
  • low blood pressure
  • foot pain or numbness
  • slower reflexes
  • visual changes
  • medication side effects or interactions
Consider the following changes you can make to decrease your risk of falling:
  • Be physically active. Tai Chi, water aerobics and simply walking are all examples of exercise that assist with strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. Work with your primary care provider or physical therapist to plan a program that is right for you.
  • Have your medications reviewed. Find out about possible side effects of the medications you take. Some may affect your coordination or balance and even cause dizziness, fatigue or confusion. Review your medications (including over the counter products) with your primary care provider or pharmacist.
  • Have your blood pressure checked in both lying and standing positions. Some people have normal blood pressure when seated, but their pressure drops upon standing. Tell your doctor if you feel faint or unsteady when you get up.
  • Have your vision checked regularly. Even small changes in your eyes can make you less stable. Make sure your prescriptions are up to date and keep lenses clean. If you use reading glasses, take them off when you are walking as they can distort your depth perception.
  • Use safe footwear. Wear low-heeled shoes that fit well and support your feet. Choose shoes with non-slip soles and stay away from shoes without backs.
Over half of all falls happen in the home due to safety hazards that are both easy to overlook and easy to fix:
  • cluttered rooms
  • lack of railings and grab bars
  • reaching for high or low items
  • poor lighting
Whatever the cause, most falls in the home and community can be prevented. Take these steps to "fall proof" your home both inside and out.
  • Remove or secure any items that could cause you to trip or slip. Relocate pet bowls, shoes and toys. Tape down cords and remove throw rugs or secure them with double-sided tape.
  • Remove unnecessary furniture and decorative items. Rearrange living areas to clear pathways.
  • Make sure chairs and beds are not too low or too high. Chairs with arms make it easier to stand.
  • During the winter, ask someone to spread sand or salt on icy surfaces and be sure to wear footwear with good traction. Better yet, don't take chances walking on slippery surfaces alone.
  • Make sure you have good lighting in each room including stairwells, outdoor walkways, and hallways. Install the brightest possible bulbs in light fixtures. Use nightlights or keep a flashlight next to your bed.
  • Have handrails installed on both of stairs and walkways. If you must carry something, hold the item in one hand and hold the handrail with the other.
  • Have grab bars installed next to the toilet and in the shower. Make sure they are secured to the wall properly.
  • Rearrange cupboards and closets so that frequently used items are within easy reach. Ensure that you are able to obtain food, dishes, clothing, toiletries and other everyday necessities without standing on a stool or balancing on one foot.
  • Invest in an alert system so that if you should fall, you are able to contact emergency services for help.
  • Use safety equipment to make self-care activities less dangerous:
  • Shower chair
  • Hand held showerhead
  • Raised toilet seat
  • Bedside commode
  • Walker with basket or tray
  • Cane
  • Reacher
  • Portable/cell phone
  • Ask a loved one or caregiver for help identifying other fall hazards in your home.
You can also contact your physical or occupational therapist to request a home safety evaluation. They can provide individualized recommendations for home modifications and safety equipment specific to your needs.

For more information, visit

http://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls or http://www.cdc.gov/Features/OlderAmericans/

Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please contact Jen Dunn, OTR/L at Marcus Daly Rehabilitation Center, a service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!


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