Recently I had the unnerving experience of losing my balance and falling while hiking precariously close to the edge of a deep gorge. Fortunately, there was no serious physical injury, but the impact certainly was painful! In hindsight, I know that I fell because I wasn’t paying attention to the path, but instead was distracted by scenery, other hikers and critters.
All of us are subject to falls when distracted, so—in anticipation of National Falls Prevention Awareness Day (Sept. 23) and CICOA’s Annual Safe at Home Day (Sept. 19)—let’s look at some critical steps (no pun intended) for fall prevention. Doing so could spare a great deal of discomfort, expense and loss.
In the CareAware workshop, Seniors and Balance: How to Stay Safe, we talk about fall prevention in terms of fighting back—i.e. making necessary changes in the categories of attitude, environment and behavior.
Fighting Back With a Changed Attitude (from fear…to concern)
Yes, we need to be concerned about falling—but there’s a huge difference between concern and fear. Concern motivates us to action, while fear can set us up for the worst. Did you know that the fear of falling can:
- Cause us to become isolated socially and take away independence
- Lead to inactivity (resulting in weaker bones/muscles, difficulty with balance/coordination, etc.)
- Block creative problem-solving ability
These put us at higher risk for falling…resulting in more of the above, including increased fear. Since the greatest predictor of a fall is a prior fall, let’s fight back by 1) refusing to succumb to fear, 2) refusing to view falls as unavoidable with age, and 3) recognizing that we have some choices that minimize risks.
Fighting Back With a Changed Environment (from hazardous…to safer)
Most of us have seen warnings about the home environment—getting rid of throw rugs, installing grab bars in the bathroom, keeping clutter off the floor, and never trying to navigate in the dark without a flashlight or night light.
However, did you know that being in a chilly home can increase risk for loss of balance? According to a recent European study, being in a house whose temperature is lower than 65ºF can slow circulation, resulting in dizziness. Imagine the irony of trying to save money on energy consumption only to realize exorbitant losses in medical expenses and quality of life. Stay comfortable!
Fighting Back With Changed Behaviors (from less mindful…to focused)
Behaviors with regard to our physical health are critically important for fall prevention, but although they’re easy to do, they’re often neglected.
- Strict adherence to one’s medications regimen (i.e. never miss a dose, call the doctor with questions)
- Sufficient rest, exercise and frequent stretching
- Annual checkups with the doctor (including vision and hearing exams, please)
- Good hydration and nutrition
- Avoiding sudden changes of position
- Alcohol in moderation, and never with medications
Other behaviors are just as urgent:
- Let’s slow down! No event or responsibility is so important that we harm ourselves along the way. (If the house is on fire, does it help to run if we fall before getting out the door?)
- We need to watch our destination, our feet, and everything in between! (In the supermarket, can you keep your eyes on where you’re going—or are you walking in one direction while distracted and curious about the sale on cupcakes over there in the bakery?)
- Using an assistive device such as a cane or walker is not a sign of weakness, but of empowerment. If your doctor wants you to use this, it might very well improve health, independence and longevity.