According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury every 11 seconds. Locally, falls are our most common reason for admission to the hospital. If you are concerned about falls, talk to your primary care provider. They can offer advice and guide you to local support services that can help you or your loved one age well. Your provider can help you understand if any medications are increasing your fall risk and can recognize signs and symptoms of illnesses that may affect your stability like inner ear or vision problems.
Fortunately, falls are preventable. To avoid serious injury, fall prevention should be a priority for adults as they age. Making your home a safe place is an important way to minimize fall risks and can include:
- Remove loose rugs from the floor. Many falls are caused by someone tripping on a rug.
- Clear pathways. Keep the most commonly used pathways clear of tripping hazards.
- Keep pathways well-lit. It’s easy to trip on something you can’t see. Make sure pathways stay well-lit and that switches are easy to reach, so even late-night trips to the bathroom are safe.
- Use handrails. Make sure both sides of the stairs have sturdy handrails.
- Fix loose carpet or steps. Make sure each step and any carpet is firmly attached.
- Keep things you use often on shelves that are around waist high.
- Prevent slippery floors. Use non-slip rubber mats in tubs and showers.
- Install grab bars if you need extra support to get in and out of the shower or up from the toilet.
Fear of falling is common but can lead to more falls when it stops you from practicing prevention measures. People who are afraid of falling may try to move less and less to avoid an injury, leading to weaker muscles and an increase in fall risk rather than a decrease. Exercise and consistent activity is not only part of a healthy lifestyle but helps you maintain the balance and strength that you need as you get older. It’s never too early or late to start, and there are many programs available to the public to help you stay active. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you before you begin any exercise plan.
Leigha Jordan is the injury prevention coordinator for the trauma department at Cone Health. She also manages the activities of Safe Guilford, the injury prevention coalition for Guilford County, and provides outreach and education on child passenger, bike and pedestrian safety, and fall prevention for older adults. Leigha received a Master of Science in Health Promotion from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2001.