By Dr. Jennifer Jahner, PT, DPT
One of the most common concerns heard in my clinic practice is, “I don’t want to fall,” or, “What if I fall?” Falling is a common and debilitating problem among older adults. Most people admittedly think that falling is just something that happens as we age, or that it’s because of poor balance. While lack of balance is most definitely a contributor, there are many other factors that can be involved with a fall. As our ND winter approaches, fear and anxiety regarding falls seem to increase and for good reason. According to the ND Department of Health, falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for people 60 years and older in ND. The good news is that many falls are preventable!
First, identify your risk for falling. Have you fallen 2 or more times in the past year? Are you unsteady when standing? Do you hold onto furniture when you walk? Do you take 4 or more medications per day? Do you experience light-headedness when you change positions? Do you have decreased sensation in your feet or other foot problems? Has your hearing changed lately? Do you have problems with urinary urgency or incontinence? Do you have trouble getting out of a chair? These are just some of the indications that you may be at higher risk of falling. If you feel this pertains to you, here are some simple tips to help prevent falls:
•Stand slowly and have a plan for where you are going.
•Use an appropriate assistive device that has been personalized for you by a licensed Physical Therapist.
•Wear shoes. Many falls occur because of lack of appropriate footwear.
•Stay active. Strengthening your legs is key to keeping yourself upright.
•Walk in lighted areas and have a night light for dark hours.
•Keep a phone with you or have an alert button on your body.
•Store frequently used items between shoulder and waist level to avoid having to use ladders or crouch down.
•Slow down. Impulsivity and multitasking increases your risk.
•Stay current on your vision and hearing exams.
•Screen your home for trip hazards such as area rugs, extension cords, and clutter in your pathways.
•Install hand rails in needed areas such as stairways and bathrooms.
Services are available to help you to identify your risk for falling as well as to determine treatment options to decrease that risk. Contact your physician or physical therapist and ask them for a fall assessment evaluation. Falling does not have to be part of the golden years. Prevention is key.