If you’re afraid of falling, you’re not alone. Many people, as they get older, begin to fear falling and the potential injury that can come from a fall. As a result, they begin to limit their activities and social engagements. Enjoyment of life decreases, and the fear of falling can lead to a downward spiral of physical decline, social isolation, loneliness and depression.
But it’s possible to avoid this negative chain of events and stay active – while reducing your chances of a fall, too. By learning some simple guidelines for preventing falls, you can reduce the chances of falling in your home. And by staying active, you can maintain your physical strength and balance to reduce the chances of falling even further.
It’s wise to be careful about avoiding falls. For older Americans, falls are the number one cause of injuries as well as deaths from injuries. The consequences of a fall can be severe, including fractures, dislocations, head trauma and soft tissue injuries. Every year, falls result in 800,000 visits to the hospital and 27,000 deaths, according to the National Council on Aging.
“Falls threaten older Americans’ independence and safety and generate enormous economic and personal costs that affect everyone.”
– Grant Baldwin, director of the CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
According to Armida Dixon, head of nursing at Heritage Health Care Center in Globe, “a fall can happen to anyone at any time.” Things that can increase the risk of falling include illness, surgery, weakness, tests, medications, medical equipment, noise, a change in cognitive status and new surroundings, Dixon says.
The fear of falling also has negative consequences, itself, including the downward spiral that results from limiting activity, potentially leading to physical decline, isolation and depression.
Limiting activity does not really protect older adults from falls. When people stop moving about because they’re afraid of falling, they lose muscle strength and coordination – which, in turn, actually increases the chances of falling.
The solution is to focus on fall prevention. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends these ways of helping prevent falls in the home:
- Make your home fall-safe. Remove trip hazards like clutter, throw rugs, carpets with loose edges, electrical cords and cracks in sidewalks. Have sufficient lighting, especially at night between the bedroom and bathroom.
- Consider installing safety devices like grab bars, fall mats, a shower chair and/or a transfer bench to help you get into and out of the shower.
- Changing position can cause a fall, so when you are getting up from lying down, sit up first and then stand slowly to avoid dizziness.
- Poor eyesight is a major cause of falls, so get your eyes checked annually, and keep your eyeglasses current.
- Know which medications that you take could make you more likely to fall. These might include heart medications, NSAIDs and antidepressants, among others.
- Take part in activities that help improve your balance and strengthen your legs. Tai chi is one example.
- Wear non-skid socks, and always use your walking device (cane or walker).
- Talk to your health care provider about falls and fall prevention. If you’ve had a fall recently, tell your doctor.
Armida Dixon points out that at Heritage, side rails, sensor alarms and bodily restraints are never used, because they are not recommended and can cause injury.
“Literature supports that noise from alarms contributes to falls and is a definite hazard for people with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.”
– Armida Dixon, Head of Nursing at Heritage Health Care Center in Globe
Dixon says, “Heritage associates are trained to recognize residents who are at risk for falls. We take a proactive approach by getting to know the residents and recognize what may trigger a change of position.”
To help prevent falls, residents and families can receive education and safety guidelines from Heritage’s interdisciplinary team, therapy department and Restorative Nursing program.
The fear of falling doesn’t have to reduce your enjoyment of life. By following safety and fall prevention guidelines, you can prevent many falls, protect yourself from injury and stay active much longer.
Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.