In the elderly, preventing falls and their consequences (e.g. a fracture) is just as important as preventing heart disease and infections, because a fall can have a major impact on quality of life and even survival.
What can be done to prevent falls?
Here are some tips:
- Physical activity helps keep muscles healthy and improves balance. Regular physical activity maintains strength, balance, coordination and flexibility – all essential in preventing falls.
Activities that keep the body alert include walking, aquafitness, cycling, cross-country skiing and dancing. Tai Chi is particularly effective at improving posture, flexibility and balance.
- Integrating balance exercises into your daily routine is another good way to maintain or improve your balance. For example, you could try standing on one leg while brushing your teeth.
- It’s important to remain well hydrated because dehydration can lead to dizziness and confusion, two common causes of falls.
- For some people, sudden changes in position (e.g. getting up from lying in bed) can lead to a drop in blood pressure and dizziness. These individuals should change positions more slowly, for example by sitting on the edge of the bed for a few seconds before standing up.
- People taking long-term drug treatments should review their prescriptions periodically with their doctor or pharmacist.
Since medication is eliminated through the liver or kidneys, and these organs can become less effective as we age, it is sometimes necessary to adjust certain treatments to avoid adverse effects.
- Vision problems can also increase the risk of falls. It is therefore important to get your eyes examined every year and to have your prescription eyewear adjusted accordingly, when required.
- It is important to choose sensible shoes. Your risk of losing your balance increases when you walk in high-heeled shoes, or in shoes that are ill-fitting or have poor-quality soles. Get your feet measured before buying new shoes, as your feet change as you age.
Only buy shoes that are immediately comfortable when you first try them on. Avoid shoes that have high heels or thick soles. In the winter, wearing cleats can help prevent slipping on icy surfaces.
- Light up your living environment. As you age, less light reaches the back of your eyes, so it is important to keep your living space well lit. Keep a bedside lamp that you can easily reach from your bed.
Create a lit path to light switches that are away from room entrances. Consider installing glow-in-the-dark switches. Ensure staircases are well lit.
- Adapting the home environment can help reduce the risk of falls. For example, make sure that hallways and pathways at home are not cluttered with objects on which a person can trip (e.g. carpet, decorative objects placed on the floor, loose wires).
Remove boxes, newspapers, electric cords and other obstacles from walkways. Secure decorative rugs to the floor. Repair damaged flooring as soon as possible.
Use a nonslip mat in the bathtub or shower. Moreover, bathroom grab bars are very useful for getting up from the toilet or bathtub. If they aren’t sufficient help for getting out of the tub, it is best to have a shower instead. A specially designed chair can be placed in the shower if needed.
- Lastly, use assistive devices to help you perform everyday tasks. There are many accessories – other than walking aids such as a cane or walker – that can help you perform everyday tasks. Discuss this with your doctor, who will refer you to an occupational therapist if necessary.
While it’s important to reduce our risk of falls as we age, it shouldn’t keep us from staying active – adapting our activities does not mean no longer doing them! That said, it’s important to be honest with ourselves and to recognize our limits.
More information on Government of Canada: You can prevent falls!