(This blog post is a contribution from Kindra French, owner of 101 Mobility® in San Diego.)
I was in second grade when my grandma moved in with our family. To prepare for her coming to live with us, my parents built a room addition to the first floor of our house.
Grandma’s room, just off the kitchen, had everything she would need: a private bathroom, roomy sleeping quarters with a comfortable seating area, and easy access to the fridge.
I lost my first tooth in Grandma’s room, with the help of some dental floss tied to the bathroom doorknob. Slam! Out it flew, faster than my terrified 7-year-old mind could react.
Almost as suddenly as snatching out that loose tooth, Grandma was snatched from our home quicker than she had come. One morning, just a couple of months after she moved in, Grandma tripped on a scatter rug in the kitchen, fell, and broke her hip. Just… like… that.
She never fully recovered and lived in a skilled nursing facility for the remainder of her time on earth.
The risk of falling increases dramatically as we age, and the likelihood of severe damage when we fall compounds with age. Yet many falls can be prevented. Here are a few simple things we can do to minimize our risk of falling as we age:
Take Care of Yourself:
Regular physical activity reduces your risk of falling. Exercise builds strength and balance, which means you will be less likely to fall. Make it a goal to exercise for at least twenty minutes a day, doing an activity that you enjoy. Not only will it minimize your risk of falling, but exercise also has countless benefits, including increased stamina and flexibility. Talk to your health care provider about the most beneficial fitness program for you.
Get regular hearing and vision screenings
Hearing and balance are very closely related. Maintaining regular check-ups for these factors will help reduce your risk of falling. Having your vision checked annually is another important preventive tool when it comes to falls. Conditions that limit your vision should be recognized and treated.
Understand your medications
Give your healthcare provider a list of all your prescription and over-the-counter medications that you take. Some medicines cause dizziness or drowsiness, which could lead to falls. Medicines can sometimes interact with each other to produce these same harmful side effects. Consult your doctor or pharmacist about the common side effects of the drugs that you are prescribed.
Safeguard Your Home:
Safeguard the bathroom
Most falls happen in the bathroom; this part of the home should be the highest priority in safeguarding against falls. First, apply non-skid surfacing in tub and shower areas to make them less slippery. Install grab bars to provide a handhold if you do start to fall. Low-threshold or no-threshold showers are a great option to reduce the chance of a fall in the bathroom. Shower seats are another helpful tool for preventing falls.
Remove tripping hazards
Remove any objects on the floor that could pose a tripping hazard. This includes rugs, magazines, papers, pet toys, shoes, and any other items that can lead to a fall.
Store supplies within reach
Falls can occur when you stretch or climb to reach items stored overhead. Store frequently used items on shelves, in cabinets, or in drawers that are easily within reach. Heavy items should always be stored low to reduce the chance of dropping something heavy from overhead.
Install adequate lighting
Falls are less likely if areas are well-lit because obstacles become more visible. Consider installing motion-sensing lights along walkways and in hallways.
Install threshold ramps
Thresholds themselves can pose tripping hazards. Additionally, the transition between uneven surfaces, say, moving from a kitchen to a carpeted dining room, can facilitate a fall. Threshold ramps reduce the risk of tripping in these transition zones.
Remove clutter and excess furniture
Navigating around cluttered rooms and excess furniture can be challenging as we get older. Eliminating bulky pieces of furniture and other large objects creates a clear path and makes falls less likely.
Install mobility solutions
Mobility equipment, like stairlifts, dramatically reduces the risk of falling. A stair lift allows you to safely and comfortably move up and downstairs. Handrails on entryway steps provide added security and a handhold if you start to fall.
Resist the temptation to think that catastrophic falls are inevitable; take steps to safeguard your home and take care of yourself. Don’t fall for that; minimize your risk; maximize your freedom and independence!