Falls are the leading cause of death among Americans 65 years and older.1 Every day, thousands of seniors fall down and struggle to get back up or recover from the physical toll of the fall. In many cases, they injure themselves or experience lasting health problems from a simple misstep, and the risk of falling only increases with age.
For these reasons, fall prevention is a top priority for older adults, with or without mobility issues. If you or someone you love has experienced a fall, you know how worrying they can be. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce the risk of falls and (hopefully) avoid them entirely. Read on to learn seven ways to avoid falls.
1. Be Careful With Medications
Many older adults take medication for short- or long-term health issues. Strong medications often have side effects such as drowsiness, blurred vision, and dizziness. All these effects can increase the chances of falling and hurting yourself, and the odds are amplified if you mix your meds with alcohol.
Did You Know: Every year, about 25 percent of adults over the age of 65 fall at least once.
Do not mix your medications with alcohol or other drugs that may impair your ability to stay upright. Take extra care getting in and out of chairs and moving around in general if you're on medication. If you plan to take a sleeping pill, situate yourself in bed before you take it. Alcohol can also increase your risk of falling with or without medications, so limit your drinking if you really want to avoid losing your balance.
2. Don't Be In a Rush
Many older adults fall simply because they attempt to move too quickly, especially when getting out of bed or a chair. If you try to move too fast, you could have a sudden drop in blood pressure that causes you to lose your balance and fall. Always take things one careful step at a time. When you first wake up in the morning, for example, take the process of getting up in multiple steps.
Pro Tip: If you fall, medical alert systems can alert first responders or caregivers and send the help you need as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of serious injuries. Visit our list of the best medical alert systems to learn more.
First, push yourself up into a sitting position, and then wait until you feel comfortable. Make sure there aren't any objects on the floor that could trip you up. When you're ready, place both feet on the floor and use your legs and arms to push yourself into a standing position. You are less likely to lose your balance by going from lying down to standing up too fast.
3. Keep Up Physical Activities
Low- to moderate-impact exercises can help improve muscle strength and make it far easier to move around without falling. They can also enhance your overall sense of balance and confidence in your body. Just about any kind of exercise is useful, but it is best to focus on exercises that tone and build muscle, such as swimming, jogging, lifting weights, and yoga.
Did You Know: According to the CDC, seniors need at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity to get the most health benefits from exercise.
You have to take extra care when exercising, since the combination of excessive movement and physical exhaustion could actually increase your risk of falling. It's best to take things slow and, if possible, exercise with others. If you have a soft mat you can use for yoga and other exercise routines, it could greatly reduce the risk of injury if you fall during a workout.
4. Get Regular Medical Exams
Staying one step ahead of any potential health issues is a great way to avoid a lot of problems, including falls. In addition to general health checkups, you should get annual ear and eye exams. Keeping your vision care updated ensures that you can see things around you with greater clarity. Ear exams are also important because your inner ear helps you maintain balance, and any deterioration in your hearing canals could make you more prone to falls.
5. Get the Sleep You Need
Most people need around seven to eight hours of sleep per night to feel rested, but everybody's sleep needs vary. Perhaps you feel fully rested after five hours, or maybe you need at least nine hours to wake up feeling refreshed. Either way, make sure you get enough sleep to meet your needs. If you don't, you likely will wake up feeling groggy and uncoordinated, increasing the chances that you take a tumble. With a full night's sleep, you will typically have the cognitive ability to adequately recognize your surroundings and move around without issue.
6. Use a Cane or Walker
Some older adults avoid using assistance devices such as canes or walkers because they feel like they don't need them. It is always better to start using one of these devices before you really need it rather than wait until it is too late and you fall. Canes, walkers, and wheelchairs help you keep your balance and give you something to lean on if you feel dizzy or unbalanced.
Did You Know: Walkers are considered a form of durable medical equipment (DME), which means your Medicare Part B plan should cover a portion of the cost.
According to one study of the usefulness of canes and walkers, roughly 75 percent of participants who experienced a fall were not using an assistive device at the time despite saying they believed the devices could help prevent falls.2 Just having a walker or cane within arm's reach when getting in and out of chairs could greatly reduce your risk of falling.
7. Use Nonslip Walking Shoes
You may like to walk around the house in your favorite slippers, but it's always a good idea to put on shoes specifically designed to resist slippery surfaces and keep you upright. When shopping for walking shoes, look for a pair that has rubber soles and low or no heels. Ideally, they would be nonslip shoes that lace up to provide as much support as possible.
A great pair of walking shoes can reduce your risk of falling on regular surfaces (wood floors, tile, and concrete, for example), but they won't do as much on very slippery surfaces like ice or snow. Try to avoid walking on or near ice patches in any kind of shoe to greatly reduce the risk of falling — regardless of your age or mobility status.
Falls are a serious threat as we age, but there are plenty of ways to prevent them and stay on top of your health. By following the tips above and taking extra care around stairs, uneven or slippery surfaces, and unfamiliar environments, you can greatly reduce your risk of falling. If you still struggle with balance or worry about falls, you may want to consider purchasing a medical alert system for added protection or getting extra care at an assisted living facility.