By Kathy Hubbard
“Don’t worry, I won’t fall,” the woman said to her daughter before she stepped into her bath. “It’s not like I’m going to climb a tree, for heaven’s sake.” Well, heaven didn’t help her. On her way out she slipped and fell hard, as in hard enough to break her hip.
You say that could happen to anyone? You’re right. You say that can’t happen to you? You’re wrong. One in four older Americans fall every year and falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65 and over.
The Centers for Disease Control says that one out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or head injuries. Each year three million people are treated in emergency rooms and over 800,000 patients are hospitalized because of a fall injury.
Head injuries due to a fall can be very serious, particularly if the person is taking certain medications such as blood thinners. Broken bones can make it hard for a person to continue their regular routine, or even to live on their own. Sure, many falls don’t cause injuries, but even if they don’t result in a broken bone or traumatic head injury, they may make one become afraid of falling.
“Fear of falling may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling,” CDC says. Sounds like a vicious circle, doesn’t it?
What are we supposed to do? Mayo Clinic says the first step is to make an appointment with your primary care provider. At this meeting you’ll talk about the medications you’re taking including any supplemental drugs and over-the-counter pain relievers especially those that have PM in their title.
“Your doctor can review your medications for side effects and interactions that may increase your risk of falling,” Mayo says. They also say to tell the medico if you’ve fallen or almost fallen. “Be prepared to discuss instances when you almost fell but were caught by someone or managed to grab hold of something just in time.”
Ask if any of your health conditions could cause a fall. “Certain eye and ear disorders may increase your risk of falls. Be prepared to discuss how comfortable you are when you walk – for example, do you feel any dizziness, joint pain, shortness of breath, or numbness in your feet and legs when you walk?”
If you don’t exercise because you’re afraid of falling, tell your PCP. “He or she may recommend carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physical therapist.”
Next step is to look at your shoes. High heels, flip-flops, floppy slippers, slick-soled shoes can make you slip and fall, as can walking in your stocking feet. “Wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles,” Mayo says. “Sensible shoes may also reduce joint pain.”
Then, look around every room in your home including the stairs inside and out. Look where you have your electrical cords, then declutter the stuff on the floor like old magazines and newspapers. Move furniture from high-traffic areas. Make sure all rugs are secured with double-faced tape or slip-resistant pads, or better yet, take them out of your house. Repair any uneven flooring. Clean spills immediately and put non-slip mats in your tub and/or shower.
Don’t forget to light up your life. Keep your home brightly lit. Put nightlights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways. Have a lamp on your night stand and use it when you get up during the night. Turn on lights when you walk into any room and particularly on the stairway and don’t forget to have a flashlight (with fresh batteries) in an easy-to-find place in the event of a power outage.
Your PCP might suggest you walk with a cane or walker. An occupational therapist can help you use these devices properly. You also should be sure to have handrails on both sides of your stairs and nonslip treads on bare-wood steps. An OT can assess your home and will make recommendations and help you brainstorm other fall-prevention strategies.
Finally, Mayo says, “If you’re concerned about the cost, remember that an investment in fall prevention is an investment in your independence.”
Performance Physical Therapy has a balance program and therapists who’ll do in-home assessments for fall risks. Call 208-265-3325 for an appointment.Click Here for More Information About Performance Therapy Services