The intense sunlight has mellowed, the leaves are turning color and falling, the cool mornings and warm afternoons are a welcome change. Not only has Mother Nature made a change, so have many in our community. There seems to have been a rash of falls…. Broken hips, shoulders, ankles, and arms have appeared in our patient census and among acquaintances as well. I thought this would be an opportune time to review some fall prevention strategies.
If your balance is a bit shaky, consider asking for a physical therapy evaluation. Strengthening exercises reduce your risk of falls by toning up core muscles and improving stability. Walking, Yoga, and Tai Chi are helpful also, even with an assistive device. (Check out Yoga for Arthritis, on PBS). There are local Yoga classes as well, check the paper and flyers for times and locations.
Have your vision tested. Glaucoma, cataracts, bifocals/trifocals, and wearing the wrong prescription lenses increase your risks of a tumble. Consider having your hearing tested also (and then wear those hearing aids), some obstacles are alerting you to danger through alarms.
Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider or pharmacist to review your medications. Pain medicine, sleeping pills, blood pressure medication, allergy medication, and many combinations thereof affect your perception and balance. Over the counter medicines are equally hazardous. Symptoms such as dizziness, blurred vision, and sleepiness can put you on the floor faster than it takes to blink. While taking these medications sit up slowly after laying down, and then stand gradually as well while your body compensates.
Many fall hazards are scattered about your home. Do you navigate an obstacle course in order to reach the bathroom? Are there loose cords lying across your path? How many throw rugs have collected throughout the house? Have a seat in your favorite chair. This is an area where much of the clutter can accumulate, the “nest area.” Put a phone close by, with emergency numbers in large print. Pick up those stacks of magazines, newspapers, books, junk mail, and trinkets, and stack them safely and securely away from the floor.
Move furniture so that you have a clear path from room to room. This is even more important if you use an assistive device such as a walker, wheelchair or cane. Remove throw rugs or secure them with double sided tape, or a non-skid backing, coil or tape cords and wires next to the wall to prevent tripping on them. Place night lights in hallways, bathrooms, and bedrooms. Consider having a different color at floor level so you can easily see where various steps and edges are. Make sure all your stairs have a strong handrail.
Your toilet may benefit from a raised safety seat and frame. Consider sturdy grab bars near the toilet, shower and tub. Have someone help you move your medicines and frequently used materials to the lower shelves (about waist high). This is equally important in the rest of the house.
Much of the safety improvements to your home can be purchased locally, from bath mats and sturdy grab bars to raised toilet seats. A few upgrades here and there can make a big difference in your fall risk. As I tell my patients, it’s not the fall-but the sudden stop. Stay vertical!
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on www.hometowndebate.com 9/7/13. If you would like to respond to this story, go to hometowndebate.com