September 22nd marks an important day – Falls Prevention Awareness Day. Contrary to popular belief, falls are preventable and not a normal part of aging. They are often due to circumstances that are easily overlooked. For example, your living space could present several hazards, or an unknown vitamin D deficiency could create a loss of muscle strength and mass, problems with balance and gait or declining eyesight and hearing—all of which can increase your chances of falling at home.
Ignoring these hazards can lead to tragic consequences. According to the CDC in 2018, falls were the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans. And with more than 10,000 Americans turning 65-years-old each day, falls are a growing and significant public health problem. According to the CDC, the estimated medical cost of falls across the U.S. healthcare system is $50 billion annually.
Luckily, the causes of falls are incredibly easy to remedy, and there is a lot that you can do on your own to increase the safety of your home or the safety of a loved one’s home. As the old adage states, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Below are 9 simple ways to prevent falls in your own home:
1) Make Your Home Free from Hazards:
One of the easiest steps you can take to prevent falls at home is to make your home free of hazards. In general, make sure all hallways, stairs and paths have adequate lighting and are clear of objects such as boxes, books, electrical cords or shoes. Objects you might not have previously thought about, like throw rugs, should be removed or an area rug secured to the floor. In the kitchen, be sure to place a non-skid mat in front of your kitchen sink and dishwasher to prevent slippery spots and keep the tools you use most often within easy reach rather than on high or low shelves. Use a wide stepping stool with a handrail when you have to reach for something, and never climb on chairs, tables or counters.
Finally, as two-thirds of accidental injuries happen in the bathtub or shower, make sure to take extra care to prevent risks in your bathroom. Place a non-slip mat in the bathroom and have a professional install grab bars for additional support. Using a hand-held shower head and shower bench or shower chair can be immensely helpful in protecting yourself against falls.
2) Consider the Medications You Are Taking:
Occasionally, certaincombinations of medicines can cause sleepiness or dizziness, which can cause you to fall. It’s important to speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist to review your medications, even the over-the-counter ones, to ensure that you are using the medication as directed, that it won’t contribute to a fall and that you’re never taking someone else’s medication. On top of this, it can be helpful to refill medications ahead of time so they don’t run out and dispose of discontinued or expired medicines so that they won’t get mixed up with current ones.
3) Engage in Physical Activity:
Exercise is proven to improvestrength, balance and coordination. Taking time to plan an exercise program in consultation with your physician is a wonderful, proactive way to prevent falls in your home.
4) Be Aware of Your Vision Needs:
Even a small change in eyesight may cause a fall, so having your eyes tested regularly—at a minimum annually—is a valuable practice. And for those of us who wear glasses or contacts, make sure to take time to get used to them when you get new prescriptions, and always wear them when you need them.
5) Use Assistive Devices:
When recommended by your doctor, using assistive devices, such as a cane or walker, can be incredibly helpful in increasing your balance and keeping you safe. Make sure to consult a physical or occupational therapist to help you decide the right device that would be helpful and to learn how to use them safely.
6) Wear Proper Footwear at All Times:
Though it might seem second nature to walk on your stairs or floors barefoot, or in socks, shoes or slippers with smooth soles, this is something that can greatly increase your chance of falling. Instead, wear non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes or lace-up shoes with non-skid soles that fully support your feet.
7) Take Your Time:
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself against falls is simply by taking your time. Make sure to get up slowly, as rapid changes of positions can cause dizziness and falls. Take a moment to clear your head and make sure you are awake before getting out of bed, as drowsiness can sometimes cause confusion and disorientation. Then make sure to observe your environment to make sure your pathways are clear and unobstructed, and always use rails and banisters when going up and down the stairs.
8) Be Open and Honest with Your Healthcare Provider:
One of the most significant and proactive steps you can take in preventing falls is being open and honest with your healthcare provider. Notifying your doctor if you have recently fallen or have been feeling unsteady will alert your doctor and allow for discussions that you might not have previously had.
9) Always Be Prepared:
Most importantly, always be prepared in case a fall happens. Carry a cell phone on your person at all times or invest in an alert system, which enables a call for assistance at the press of a button. If you fall, do not wait and call for help immediately!