Prevent falls at home

August 19, 2010

Each year, more than one-third of U.S. adults 65 and older experience a fall, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A fall might not sound like a big deal, but among older adults, falls are the leading cause of death due to injury (vs. disease). In 2005, 15,800 people 65 and older died from fall-related injuries, according to the CDC.

There are a variety of reasons older adults have a greater fall risk. These include vision problems, certain medications and weak and inflexible joints and muscles. Certain health conditions can also increase fall risk, including osteoporosis, arthritis and other conditions affecting the bones, muscles and joints; irregular heartbeat and stroke; diabetes; Alzheimer's disease and senility; hearing loss and others.

The good news is there are many ways older adults can reduce their fall risk. The first step is a trip to your doctor, who can determine if vision problems, medications you're taking or certain physical conditions might be increasing your fall risk.

The National Center for injury Prevention and Control and other experts offer these additional tips:

Exercise. If you're not already exercising, get started! Working out increases strength and flexibility. Exercises that improve balance and coordination (like Tai Chi) are the most helpful for preventing falls. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program, and ask about the best types of exercise for you.

Review your medicines. Have your doctor or pharmacist check all prescription and non-prescription medicines you're taking. Some medicines, or combinations of medicines, can make you drowsy or light-headed.

Have your vision checked. Your eye doctor can determine if you're wearing the right glasses, or have a condition such as glaucoma or cataracts that affects vision.

Make your home safer.

Remove things you can trip over (power cords, clothes and shoes) from stairs and places where you walk. Be sure there is a clear path from your bed to the bathroom in case you need to get up in the middle of the night.

Attach non-slip treads and mark stair edges to prevent tripping. Keep stairs well lit and have handrails on both sides.

Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep rugs from slipping.

Keep items you use often on lower shelves in cabinets so you can reach them easily without a step stool.

Install grab bars next your toilet and in the tub or shower.

Use non-slip mats in the bathroom, particularly in the tub and shower.

Improve your home's lighting. As we age, we need brighter lights to see well. Keep a lamp within easy reach of the bed so you can turn it on before you get out of bed.

Wear shoes that give good support and have thin, non-slip soles. Avoid wearing slippers and athletic shoes with deep treads.

Connecticut Center for Healthy Aging at The Hospital of Central Connecticut can offer information on fall prevention and a wide variety of other topics for seniors and their families. For information on the Center call 1.877.4 AGING 1 (1.877.273.0078).