Preventing Falls and Fractures

Falls can take a serious toll on quality of life and independence. Falls are actually the leading cause of death from injury after the age of 65.  Often times the complications that occur form falls - bleeding, hip fractures, and head injuries – lead to long term complications and disability.  Learning and practicing to prevent falls helps maintain health and mobility.

September 22-26 is National Fall Prevention Awareness Week.  Started in 2008, the week raises awareness about the seriousness of falls and how to prevent fall risk.  During Fall Prevention Awareness week, healthcare providers, senior service agencies, and other community organizations typically hold presentations, health fairs, screenings, and workshops to educate adults and their families and caregivers, as well as the general public on fall prevention.

One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year, but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it.  The most common fall injuries are fractures from weak bones.  Even if one if not injured, older adults may develop a fear of falling which causes them to limit their physical fitness and mobility.

Practical Tips:

Evaluate your balance. Stand up from a chair without using your arms, walk several steps, turn around once, walk back to the chair, and sit down without using your arms on the arm rests. If you can do this easily, then balance may not be a major problem for you.

Evaluate your nutrition.  Are you consuming enough protein, vitamin D, along with other important nutrients? Vitamin D has beneficial effects on muscle strength and balance.  Magnesium is associated with improved muscle mass in older adults, and studies show that that boron and anti-oxidants like Vitamin C are associated with improved coordination.

Consider adding a bone health supplement, after consulting your doctor.  More protein combined with essential nutrients (boron, magnesium, vitamin K2, silicon) can provide important bone health nutrients that are insufficient in the typical American diet.

Have your vision checked on a regular basis so your vision will be as good as possible.  If you have just had cataract surgery, your vision may be worsened during the first few months of recovery, or you may see better and think you can do more immediately. Be especially careful until both eyes are corrected if you need cataract surgery in both eyes.

Exercise. Even a minimal amount of exercise on a daily basis can improve muscle strength, flexibility and balance. Try going for a walk, or better yet, practice Tai Chi in the home or outdoors. If you unsteady on your feet, begin by holding onto a chair and lifting one leg for a moment or two.

Monitor your high blood pressure and heart problems, which can cause dizziness that can lead to falls. Practice getting up slowly from a laying down position.Note any side effects of your medications, which can also cause dizziness or drowsiness.  Talk to your doctor about changing medications if you are dizzy or experiencing balance problems.

Inspect the lighting in your home.  Make sure stairways and hallways have bright light! Use night-lights for those middle of the night trips to the bathroom.

Remove clutter and avoid moving things around. Have a clear path to the bathroom and living areas. Make sure all of your rugs have non-skid backing applied.

Have handrails installed if your balance is poor.  Don’t use the soap holder or towel bar as a handrail. These aren’t strong enough and may give way suddenly.

If you are a pet owner, know where your pet is and be careful when visiting others who have pets too – as they can wiggle between your feet cause a fall.

Use handrails on all steps no matter how easy the steps are or how many times you’ve been up and down them before.

Whenever possible, avoid uneven walking surfaces like broken sidewalks or areas under construction.

Don’t try to outsmart Mother Nature, especially during winter. When you’re out in your car, park where it is clear of snow and ice. Try to avoid walking outside on cold nights when ice is more common and difficult to see. Wear more padded clothing than you need for warmth so you’ll land softly if you do fall.

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