Dizziness, imbalance, and falls are a significant problem for older adults and one of the most common reasons for hospitalization or visit to the doctor. An estimated 95% of hip fractures are due to falls and an older adult dies every 15 minutes due to injuries from a fall—this is a 30% increase over the past decade.
Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed by the thought of falling? Change your mindset from being on the defense and only treating imbalance and falls after they occur to being on the offense with these 5 simple actions.
- Talk openly with your primary health care provider
Falling or losing your balance can be stigmatizing. You may feel uncomfortable displaying vulnerability or you fear worrying loved ones. Don’t blame yourself; it is impossible to prevent all falls. More than 1 in 4 older adults fall each year but less than half tell their doctor. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again and increases the possibility of serious injury.
If you’ve had a fall or experienced dizziness, at your next appointment have the following discussion with your health care provider:
- Offer details about your falls and balance history. There may be medical factors influencing your balance systems that could be addressed. Early detection leads to early intervention and prevention of falls.
- Review all prescription and over-the-counter medications as certain medications are linked to an increase risk for falls. Older adults who take 4 or more medications are more likely to fall.
- Ask about taking vitamin supplements to improve bone, muscle and nerve health. Vitamin D and magnesium deficiency can increase your fall risk.
- Get your eyes examined
See an ophthalmologist immediately if you experience changes in your vision such as clouded, blurred or dim vision or sensitivity to light and glare. Your eyes are extremely important for balance and stability. Conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration, can increase your risk for falling. According to research, obtaining early cataract surgery, in just one eye, can significantly reduce your chances of falling.
Schedule an appointment for an annual eye examination to check for changes in your vision. If you need glasses, get them. If you wear glasses or contacts, check to see if your prescription should be updated. If your glasses are scratched or broken, replace them.
- ‘Fall-proof’ your home
Many falls occur in the perceived safety of our own homes. Hard and wet floors make the kitchen and bathrooms the most dangerous rooms in the home. Take the time to ‘fall-proof’ every room in your house. Determine which areas can be made safer with the following adjustments:
- Reduce clutter and remove anything you can trip over from stairs and walkways
- Remove or safely secure throw rugs with double-sided tape; use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower
- Improve the lighting in your home, especially in poor-lit areas; use light-weight curtains, shades or blinds to reduce glare from windows
- Move items you use frequently in easy reach to minimize use of a step stool
- Install grab bars and handrails in high-risk areas (bathroom, stairs).
- Exercise daily
Exercise is proven to be extremely beneficial with reducing the risk for falls. Although exercise can provide tremendous benefits with respect to improving balance and fall risk, not all exercises are beneficial. A multi-component exercise program that addresses balance, strength, flexibility, and endurance is most effective. Click here for a step-by-step guide to 6 balance and strengthening exercises to get you started.
We also offer a weekly online group balance and exercise class. Learn more and make a reservation HERE.
Tai chi exercise has also demonstrated strong fall prevention results. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art which is practiced globally for its various health benefits. It involves meditative and purposeful movements which often require people to move and shift their bodies into repetitive and very functional positions. You can find tai chi instructions and videos online or take classes, sometimes offered for free in community-based settings.
- Schedule a physical therapy evaluation
Our body systems have a pesky way of weakening and slowing down as we get older. Taking that ounce of prevention now can slow or even reverse some of these processes. If you have fallen or are concerned about falling, consultation with a physical therapist is recommended.
A physical therapist can perform a comprehensive evaluation of your balance and musculoskeletal systems and provide you with personalized assessment of your risk for falls and individualized exercises aimed at improving your stability.
We do not have to accept falling as an inevitable part of aging. Implementing any of these 5 strategies has been proven effective in reducing the risk of falling. We hope you start with at least one today.
For more information, click HERE to access the video recording of the webinar Prevent Falls with Better Balance