Every year, on the first day of fall, the U.S. honors National Fall Prevention Awareness Day. As another September rolls around, that makes it the perfect time to remind ourselves of the causes and risks of falls and the importance of taking proactive action to prevent them. Don’t let the fear of falling control your life. Just learn how to empower yourself with these fall prevention tips.
Why Is Fall Prevention Important?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC,) every year, over one-third of people 65 years of age and older fall. One in five falls leads to a severe injury like a head injury or broken bone. Falls are the leading cause of preventable injury and the leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI.)
Three million older people each year are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries, and 800,000 per year are hospitalized for one, most commonly hip fractures and head injuries. A senior dies from a fall every 20 minutes. Each year, this rate increases. If this pace continues, the US will see seven fall-related deaths per hour by 2030.
Preventing falls protects you and those you love from becoming one of these unfortunate statistics. And, it helps ensure you and they have as long, active, and independent lives as possible. In this article, we will talk about the common causes of falls, and their risk factors, and we will be proving you with 11 fall prevention tips and strategies.
Common Causes of Falls
There are many possible causes of a fall. An older person’s hearing, eyesight, or reflexes may be less sharp than they used to be. A condition like heart disease, diabetes, or trouble with your blood vessels, nerves, feet, or thyroid can impair your balance. Certain medications that make you sleepy or dizzy can lead you to fall, as can safety hazards in the living environment. Confusion, such as waking up uncertain where you are, can cause falls.
What Are the Risk Factors for Falls?
Older age is one of the most common and well-known risk factors for falling. As you age, the risk of falling increases, as does the risk and potential severity of a fall-related injury.
Risk factors associated with advancing age include gait and balance challenges, muscular weakness, and excessively fast or dramatic changes in blood pressure when you rise from a lying down or seated position.
Painful foot issues are also a risk factor for falls, as is unsafe footwear, like high heels or backless shoes.
Another common risk factor for falls is hospitalization. This is due to several reasons, including:
- The new and unfamiliar surroundings
- Medications and treatments provided in that setting (the more medications you take, the more likely you are to fall)
- Potential illness leading to or occurring during hospitalization
- Decreased activity
These factors can all lead a patient to feel unsteady, weak, and confused. For this reason, even seniors who were independent and active at home could need help performing simple tasks like using the bathroom or getting out of bed while in the hospital without falling.
Other common risk factors for falls include:
- Weakness in the lower body
- Vitamin D or calcium deficiency
- Trouble balancing and walking
- Certain medications, like antidepressants, sedatives, and tranquilizers, as well as certain over-the-counter medications, can impair balance and steadiness on one’s feet
- Vision issues
- Foot pain
- Poor footwear
- Hazards in the home like uneven or broken stairs or clutter and throw rugs on the floor
If you or an older person you know has any of these risk factors for falls, take whatever extra precautions are necessary to help prevent falls. Shortly, we’ll go over some of those measures.
What Is Falls Prevention Awareness Day?
National Falls Prevention Awareness Week is a nationwide health campaign to raise awareness about falls with a focus on injury prevention.
Falls Prevention Week always takes place the first week of September, with Falls Prevention Day being the first day of fall in a given year. For 2022, we observe Fall Prevention Week from September 18-24, 2022. Falls Prevention Day is Thursday, September 22, 2022.
During this occasion, various states and Falls Free Initiative partners promote and host educational events about how falls impact older adults and that offer practical solutions for preventing them.
Fall Prevention Tips and Strategies
Taking care of your health and safety, in general, could help to reduce your risk of falling and avoid falls and serious injury from falls. Here are 11 fall prevention tips and specific ways to do that:
1. Remain Physically Active
Determine an exercise program most suitable for you. Exercising regularly helps you build muscle strength and maintain flexible joints, ligaments, and tendons.
To slow down osteoporosis-related bone loss, try some light, weight-bearing activities, like climbing stairs or walking.
2. Check Your Vision and Hearing
Get your vision and hearing checked regularly–at least once a year. Get them checked, as well, if you notice any differences in your ability to see or hear. You may not think the changes are big enough to warrant examination, but, as you advance in age, even the slightest changes in hearing or vision can lead to a fall.
Anytime you get new glasses or contact lenses, take some time getting used to them, slowly and in familiar spaces. And, always wear them as prescribed and whenever you feel you need them. If you get a hearing aid, make sure it fits comfortably and properly. And, be sure to wear it.
3. Learn About Your Medications
Specifically, learn the side effects of any medications you take. In addition, learn of any contraindications between any medications you’re taking. If any medication makes you feel dizzy or sleepy, notify your doctor or pharmacist immediately. Don’t stop taking any medications, however, without your doctor’s orders or approval.
4. Sleep Well
Sleeping well means getting sufficient, regular, restorative sleep. That means getting enough hours of deep and restful sleep every night. When we sleep is when our body clock resets or restores a state of homeostasis. This is essential for many natural, daily functions, including many that can impact your risk of falling, such as balance, energy level, and mental clarity. The bottom line here is that, if you are sleepy, your chances of falling are greater.
5. Restrict Your Alcohol Intake
Alcohol can also make you sleepy and impair your vision, judgment, spatial orientation, reflexes, and balance.
6. Use Technology
There are many health and safety technologies nowadays that can help protect older adults from falls in various ways. For instance:
- Alarm systems – Mitigate the threat of falling by alerting help right away
- Surveillance cameras – Help identify the cause of a fall or monitor a person’s safety remotely
- Smart hubs with voice commands – Allow a person to control various devices like thermostats without having to get up
- Smart lighting – Can be programmed for different settings in different rooms at different times and even set to be motion-activated
- Stairlifts – To help prevent some of the most dangerous falls
7. Use Assistive Walking Devices
If you need a cane or a walker, use it. And, if your doctor recommends you use one, obey your doctor. Assistive devices are particularly valuable when walking in busy or unfamiliar areas. Even in familiar areas, however, if there are uneven walkways or crowded walkways, a cane or walker can be useful.
8. Get Up Slowly
When standing up from a lying down or seated position, go slowly. Don’t be in such a rush. Take your time. Standing too quickly can make your blood pressure drop sharply and fast. This, in turn, can make you feel lightheaded and unsteady on your feet.
9. Be Cautious on Wet and Icy Surfaces
Better yet, avoid walking on wet or icy surfaces in the first place, if you can. But if you must, just be extra careful. Walk slower. Hold onto railings or other supports, if available. Pay close attention to your surroundings to avoid bumping into or tripping over things. Pause if you feel unsteady, whether lightheaded or weak-kneed.
While these suggestions are wise anytime you walk in any weather, they’re particularly vital when walking on wet or icy surfaces. If you’re able to, have salt or sand spread on any icy patches by the front and back doors of your home.
10. Wear Appropriate Shoes
The right shoes can help you maintain balance, lower leg strength, and a proper grip on your walking surface. These include rubber-soled, non-skid shoes that support your feet fully. They should be either lace-up or low-heeled shoes, and the soles should be neither too thin nor too thick. Avoid walking on floors or steps in socks, slippers, or shoes with smooth soles.
11. Fall-proof Your Home
While it may not be possible to eliminate all fall hazards in your home, you can help minimize their threat by fall-proofing your home. That includes clearing all items from your walking paths, like hallways, entryways, and stairs.
Falls are an increasing concern as you age: the risk of having one increases with age, and the potential consequences can be increasingly more severe. You can help prevent falls, however, by taking the necessary steps to protect yourself from the common causes and risk factors for falls.