Falls Prevention Awareness Week is observed September 18-24, 2022, to correspond with the first week of fall.
According to the National Council on Aging, one in four Americans aged 65 and older suffer falls each year. They also report that falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older Americans. Along with actual falls, the fear of falling can also be detrimental to their health. The fear of falling often reduces the number of social activities a person participates in which could lead to feelings of isolation or depression. This fear could also decrease the amount of physical activity a person does causing a loss of muscle strength and stability when walking.
The good news is that falls are preventable. You can take steps to reduce the risk of falling by making sure your home is safe from trip hazards. There are multiple websites that have helpful hints and checklists which point out fall or trip hazards you may or may not be aware of. Proper lighting, cords, rugs, pets, and storage locations are all important areas to consider when looking at your environment.
Another step in preventing falls is to participate in the right exercises to improve strength and balance. Many fitness centers, recreation centers, and even some agencies offer a variety of classes, such as A Matter of Balance or Tai Chi for Fall Prevention and Arthritis, that can help with the physical activity aspect. Some agencies offer virtual “live” classes with certified instructors, if you are not comfortable leaving your home to attend an in person class. Stretching, aerobic exercises, and strength training all aid in preventing falls. Be sure to check with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise program.
Getting regular health checkups can also aid in detecting increased risk factors for falls, including issues with vision, hearing, and medication impacts. Studies have shown that a decrease in hearing or vision could increase the risk of falling. Getting your vision and hearing checked annually should help you identify if visual or hearing aids are needed to reduce your risk. Also, talk with your doctor about the side effects or interactions from your medications. Even a simple change in medications could increase dizziness or fatigue in some people, causing them to fall.
There are several articles, websites and tool kits available discussing risk factors, safety checklists to ‘fall proof’ your home, and different exercises to help maintain strength and balance. Below are just a few.
Healthy Aging & Physical Disability Rehabilitation Research and Training Center – University of Washington - https://agerrtc.washington.edu/index.php?q=info/factsheets/fallsEldercare - Preventing Falls at Home checklist - https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Resources/Brochures/docs/Preventing%20Falls.pdf