Despite the common belief, falls are not a normal part of aging, and they are largely preventable. In fact, the best way to prevent falls is with a proactive, team approach.
Be empowered and engage your health care professionals, community providers and family by asking these five important questions recommended by the National Council on Aging.
1. What are my chances of falling?
When you visit your doctor, you likely bring up concerns about how your body feels physically. Be sure to also ask about your risk of falling — especially if you have fallen, have a fear of falling or are unsteady on your feet. By asking your doctor to assess your risk, you'll learn more about what you can do to prevent an injury. These can include physical activity, medications and proper footwear. A doctor can help you understand any concerns and provide helpful advice.
2. What home updates can I make to help prevent falls?
Most falls happen at home, but there are simple changes you can make to reduce your risk. Increase lighting in dark locations, particularly at the top and bottom of stairs, bathrooms and walkways from the bedroom to the bathroom. For stairs, install a railing on both sides for balance. Many falls occur in bathrooms, so install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. For even greater safety, consider using a shower chair and handheld shower. Ask family or friends to assist with home modifications or consult with an occupational therapist who can do a home safety assessment. NCOA provides 18 steps to fall-proofing your home.
3. Do the medications I take impact my likelihood to fall?
The next time you pick up your medicines, take time to discuss the possible side effects with your pharmacist. Ask which ones might increase your risk of falling and what you can do to prevent accidents. Side effects to look for include dizziness, drowsiness, blurry vision and even confusion. Keep in mind, it's not just prescription medications that can impact your fall risk. Other medicines, such as over-the-counter sleep aids, can make you drowsy or dizzy during the day, which can increase your likelihood of a fall. Keep a record of your medications and take the list with you when you visit your doctors and pharmacist.
4. When was my last eye checkup?
Your vision is essential to keeping your balance and preventing falls. That's why it's important to have your eyes checked every year. If you wear glasses, remember that tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings. A simple strategy is to change glasses upon entry or stop until your lenses adjust. Bifocals also can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious. Eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma can increase risk for falling, too. Talk with your eye doctor about these concerns.
5. How can I improve my balance and strength?
Ask your family physician about exercise programs that can help you build stability, strength and flexibility. While some exercises can be done at home, consider signing up for a local program. Joining an exercise group is a lot of fun and a great way to meet new friends. Some exercise programs, like Tai Chi and EnhanceFitness, have been shown to improve balance and strength and reduce falls. Contact your local senior center or Area Agency on Aging for more information.
By being proactive, you can reduce your risk of falling and maintain your independence now and in the future. Learn more at www.ncoa.org/FallsTips.