Everyone trips or loses their balance from time to time. While most falls do not cause severe injury, a simple fall from standing can cause significant injuries. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among Canadian older adults. 20-30% of older adults fall each year.
The good news is that there is much you can do as most falls are predictable and preventable. Everyone has a role in preventing falls. You can take simple steps to reduce your risk of falling.
11 Ways to Prevent a Fall
1. Improve your mobility and balance
- Include balance exercises, such as Tai Chi, Yoga, and dancing, as part of your routine
- Take your time to get up from bed and to turn, allowing your body enough time to adapt
- Talk to an Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist about mobility aids.
2. Strengthen your muscles and increase your physical activity
Exercise is good for your heart and circulation, as well as your bones, muscles, and balance. It also helps to maintain a healthy weight and mental well-being.
- If you are inactive, start by choosing an activity you like and plan for how to incorporate physical activity safely into your routine.
- Look for group activities or classes in your community or get your family or friends to be active with you.
- If you have a medical condition, discuss your plans for physical activity with a health professional before beginning an exercise program and seek a supervised program.
3. Check your vision
Regular eye exams are important to address vision problems, as poor vision can increase the risk of a fall.
- Have your eyes tested each year by an optometrist.
- Reduce glare outdoors by wearing a hat or sunglasses and eliminate glare in your home by using light shades and curtains.
- Always keep glasses handy.
4. Check your medication
Taking multiple medications is linked to falls – the greater the number of medications a person takes, the greater the risk of any adverse reaction from medication, including falls. Some drugs, such as sedatives, are more likely to increase the risk of falling.
- Ask about a medication review of all your medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for information and whether any of your medications will cause unsteadiness or other side effects.
- Speak to your doctor or pharmacist immediately if a medication is causing side effects, such as becoming unsteady, dizzy, confused, or drowsy, or if you have a fall.
- Avoid taking medication and alcohol together – alcohol can add to the risk of falling by affecting your alertness, judgement, physical coordination, and reaction time.
5. Reduce your fear of falling
Fear of falling or loss of confidence sometimes occurs after a fall. This can lead to a cycle of stopping activities, which in turn reduces muscle mass and strength.
- Become aware if you are afraid of falling and how it is affecting your everyday activities and mobility.
- Discuss your fear of falling with family members and health professionals to find ways to take appropriate steps toward fall prevention.
- Be prepared before a fall. If you live alone, a personal alarm or cordless telephone can give you greater confidence to stay active in and around the house.
6. Use appropriate footwear
Wearing footwear that does not fit properly or has worn soles may increase your risk for a fall.
Foot problems such as ingrown toenails, fallen arches, misshapen toes, and decreased sensation with age and/or from diabetes can also contribute to falls.
- Wear walking shoes for daily activities.
- Make sure your shoes are firm and supportive around the heels and the instep of your feet. They should be flexible and have enough room around your toes.
- Choose footwear that offers good stability.
7. Keep good nutrition habits
As you get older, it is particularly important to maintain strong bones and muscles.
- Eat a variety of nutritious foods
- Tell your doctor if you experience reduced appetite or unexplained weight loss.
- If you are at risk for deficiency, seek advice from a dietician or your doctor about nutrition supplements.
8. Manage your health
Annual medical assessments are an important aspect of staying independent and ensuring ongoing evaluation and treatment of conditions that contribute to falls and fall-related injury.
- Have regular check-ups with your doctor to help prevent worsening of any condition you may have and to keep you as active as possible.
- Seek medical treatment if you feel unwell.
- Talk with a healthcare professional about incontinence. Loss of bladder or bowel control, frequency (going to the toilet often), and urgency (going in a rush) all increase the risk for a fall, especially at night.
9. Do a Home Safety Checklist
Falls are often due to hazards that are easy to overlook but also easy to fix. Making changes in your home to prevent falls is beneficial both for you and your family members. Most falls resulting in significant injury occur within the home, most within the living room or bedroom.
10. Check for hazards in the community
Paying attention to our surroundings helps everyone to be safe in our communities.
- Always try to use footpaths if possible. Avoid damaged footpaths or rough ground with loose or uneven surfaces.
- Be aware of curbs, changing levels, and slopes, especially at entrances to buildings.
- Always be aware of bicycles, toys, pets, or other objects which may be in the way, especially when using a walker that blocks the view of the area in front of you.
- Allow yourself time to cross roads safely and use pedestrian crossings if available.
- If you use public transport, take your time. Keep one hand free to hold a rail and always look at the step. Ask the bus driver to wait until you are seated before taking off.
- Check the weather. Be extra careful walking on snow and ice or going outside in extreme heat.
11. Get appropriate equipment
Specialized home modifications (e.g., grab bars, walk-in showers) and assistive devices (e.g., reachers, raised toilets) play a significant role in reducing the risk of falls and helping older adults maintain their independence within their home.
- Occupational therapists can provide information about personal and environmental assessments to help make life easier and safer, as well as guidance on proper installation and use of equipment.
How OT Can Help Prevent Falls
Occupational Therapists can help you prevent falls and put into practice the 11 steps listed above. An OT can help you with advice, ideas, and equipment. OTs manage your underlying fall risk factors and optimize your home design and environment.
If you or someone you know is at risk for falls, contact us today.
Phone: 604.696.1066 ext. 1000.