As far as I’m concerned, the word “fall” might as well be grouped with all of the other four letter words that we aren’t supposed to say. Nothing good comes from falls, and they are more common than most of us would like to admit!
During your younger years, taking a tumble is often a source of embarrassment, bruises, and even playful joking from everyone with a front row seat to see it happen. As you age, falls take on a new significance. Bruises may be replaced with broken bones, and joking is replaced with concern from family and friends.
Let’s take a look at key facts regarding falls published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The resounding theme is that falls are common, and falls are dangerous.
It is painfully clear that falls are a serious problem, particularly for those with osteoporosis. Not only do falls cause painful injuries, but they also threaten your independence and quality of life. Even just the fear of falling is enough to stop people from participating in activities and social interactions they once enjoyed. Over time, this can lead to muscle weakness, depression and isolation.
If you want to learn more about what causes falls and proven strategies for preventing falls, then you have come to the right place. My goal for everyone is to remain active and engaged in all of the activities that you enjoy… and most importantly, UPRIGHT!
What Causes Falls?
If there is one thing that we’ve learned over the years, it’s that MANY factors contribute to falls. From normal changes taking place in your body during the aging process, to diseases, medications, and even your surroundings, it can be difficult to know where to start! Let’s break it into bite size pieces so that you can identify all of your personal risk factors for falls. Click on the images below to learn more about these topics.
Strategies To Keep You Upright!
Since falls cause injuries, it makes sense that eliminating falls will lead to fewer broken bones. The time has finally arrived for you to learn a proven 4-step system for fall prevention. The beauty of this system lies in the fact that it can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the 4 steps so that you can reduce your fall risk today!
If you can remember just one piece of advice, it would be this… Stay active! Do not let the fear of falling limit your lifestyle and stop you from doing the things that you love. Those who engage in less physical activity are actually MORE likely to fall because being sedentary leads to muscle loss and weakness. The old saying is true—use it or lose it!
The most effective way to reduce falls is to engage in an exercise program that includes balance training. It is a smart decision to start an exercise program under the guidance of a physical therapist to ensure that you are doing the best exercises with proper technique. A therapy program which integrates strength and balance has been shown to decrease the risk of falling by 31%! The following list includes categories of exercises that you should consider.
- Gait and balance training
- Strength training
- Movement (Tai chi or dance)
- General physical activity
One of the simplest steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling is to make sure that your vitamin D levels are in the normal range. For some, this can be as simple as spending enough time in the sun. For others, over-the-counter vitamin D supplements may be necessary. Several studies have demonstrated that if you are 65 and older, low vitamin D levels is associated with loss of muscle mass and strength, and an increased risk for hip fractures. Restoring vitamin D levels back to normal can improve muscle strength and decrease your risk of falling!
Another step that you should consider is to sitting down with your primary care provider to review all of the medications that you currently take. During this review, you should make sure that all of your medications are still medically necessary. Reducing the number of medications you take on a daily basis may decrease your risk of falling. Also, pay close attention to any interactions between medications that you take and, when appropriate, see if you can change to a different medication if an interaction exists.
My last recommendation isn’t necessarily a medication, but those who are at increased risk for falls should avoid alcohol consumption. Over time, consistently drinking 2 or more alcoholic beverages each day has been linked to weak bones and fractures. Even if this scenario does not apply to you, having a few drinks with friends even once can impact your balance, coordination, and negatively influence your decision making abilities.
It should come as no surprise that the majority of falls occur where we spend most of our time… at home! Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take today to make your home safer. If you would like the helpful hand of a professional, occupational therapists can perform home safety evaluations and recommend specific changes as well. One study showed that making basic changes around the house can decrease your risk of falling by 26%! Many of the recommendations may seem like common sense, but I’m sure that everyone will find some helpful hints as they read through this list.
- Be sure to have adequate lighting in your bedroom. This should include a lamp by your bedside, a flashlight, and motion-sensing nightlights along the path between your bedroom and bathroom.
- Keep the floor of your bedroom clean and free of clutter. You do not want to have any possible tripping hazards in your way!
- Keep a cordless phone or medical alert system in your bedroom in case of emergency.
- Purchase a bed that you can easily get into and out of.
- Take a moment to get your balance before getting out of your bed. Changing from a lying position to a standing position can cause dizziness in many people.
- Have a sturdy bedside table or grab bar available for balance as you get into and out of your bed.
- Purchase bedsheets made of materials that aren’t slippery, including cotton or wool.
- Arrange your clothes in a way that makes them easy to reach. Avoid the bottom drawers of a dresser as these are the most difficult to reach.
- Getting dressed while sitting down may also decrease your risk of falls.
- Arrange your furniture so that you have a clear path around each room.
- Keep your floors clean and free of clutter.
- Install light switches at each room entrance, as well as motion-sensing night lights in your hallways to avoid walking in poorly lit conditions.
- Use rugs that have a non-slip bottom. When this is not an option, attach a slip-resistant bottom to existing rugs.
- Avoid having any electric cords near your walkways.
- Consider using a lift chair to avoid falls while standing from a seated position.
- Use throw rugs with a non-slip bottom, or remove throw rugs altogether.
- Use floor cleaners that to not leave a slippery residue.
- Clean up immediately after any spills to avoid any tripping hazards.
- Keep your food, dishes, and utensils in an easy to reach place.
- Avoid keeping frequently used cooking equipment in a cabinet that requires you to stand on step stool.
- If you must use a step stool, choose one that is sturdy with a handrail. DO NOT use a chair or other object not designed to be used as a step.
- Always keep stairs free of objects and clutter. Stairs are NOT a place for storage!
- Keep the stairway well light. This could include having a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs, or installing motion-sensing night lights along the stairs.
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairs.
- If you have hardwood stairs, cover these with a non-slip barrier.
- Place a non-slip rug next to your bathtub or shower for safe entry and exit.
- Use nonskid adhesive textured strips on the floor of your shower or bathtub.
- Install a walk-in shower without a step or lip on the bottom.
- Install a seat in your shower to prevent fatigue.
- Install grab bars on your bathroom walls.
- Use an elevated toilet seat and install a seat that has built in armrests.
- Keep a motion-sensing night light in your bathroom.
- Keep frequently used items in drawers and cabinets that are easy to access.
The decision to use a cane, walker, or other device designed to improve your balance and mobility is not an easy one. It is a decision that millions struggle with each year. Let’s face it, many of you reading this may associate these balance devices with aging, a decline is physical conditioning, and a loss of independence.
Well, the time has come to kick that negative attitude to the curb! Research evaluating the effect of walkers and canes has proven that these devices can keep you on your feet. Scientists believe that walkers and canes improve balance in these 4 ways.
- Widens your base of support. Remember stacking blocks as a child? It was a lot easier to build a tall tower when you had a big, sturdy base. Using a walker or cane has been shown to widen your base of support, which in turn improves your balance.
- Reduces the amount of weight that your legs need to support. By getting your arms involved in the action, your legs need to support less of your body weight! Distributing your weight across more limbs improves balance and support.
- Provides input regarding the positioning of your body relative to the environment. Balance devices can provide valuable information about the terrain ahead and may warn you about upcoming obstacles that threaten to knock you on your rear!
- Increases your sense of safety and security. Confidence is the key to mobility, and balance devices have been shown to improve your sense of safety and security while walking.
One study evaluated 262 people over the age of 60 who had a history of falls and currently used a walker or cane. During the study, 75% of falls occurred when people WERE NOT using their balance device, and 100% of the falls that led to injuries requiring surgery were the result of not using the device! From this study we can conclude that using a walker or cane can prevent falls and injuries!
In the same study that showed the majority of falls occurred when people did not use their walkers and canes, researchers found another disturbing trend… The most common reasons for not using these devices were that they made the person feel old, or the person did not feel that they needed to use them!
Do not let negative feelings prevent you from using a device that can improve your balance and mobility, reduce your risk of falls, and in some instances even save your life!
The best part? I’ve done the research for you! Choose from any of the approved walkers and canes in the Osteoporosis Advisor Store and you will be one step closer to preventing broken bones!
Aside from walkers and canes, medical alert systems have proven to minimize the pain and suffering associated with falls by shortening the emergency response time. The folks over at reviews.com have put together an excellent review of the most popular emergency alert systems, which I would encourage you to read here: https://www.reviews.com/