Maintaining Balance and Preventing Falls

Fall-related injuries can be serious enough to result in hospitalization and even premature death. People who fall often face major declines in mobility and independence.
Maintaining Balance and Preventing Falls - Articles
Maintaining Balance and Preventing Falls

Photo credit: Yastremska, Flickr Creative Commons

  • Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults.
  • The majority of falls occur in the home.
  • Many falls can be prevented.
  • Lack of exercise leads to muscle weakness and increases your chances of falling.
  • Falling once doubles your chance of falling again.
  • Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your chance of falling.
  • Exercise strengthens your muscles and can improve your balance and coordination.

Risk Factors for Falling

Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling. Check off how many risk factors you have:

  • Muscle weakness, especially in the legs and core (abdominal muscles)
  • Difficulty with walking and/or balance
  • Blood pressure that drops too much when you get up from lying down or sitting causing lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants; even some over-the counter medicines can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet
  • Vision problems
  • Foot pain or poor footwear
  • Home hazards such as broken steps and no handrails near stairs
  • Slower reflexes than when you were younger
  • Confusion, even for a short while (e.g., if you wake up in an unfamiliar environment, you might feel unsure of where you are and may trip and fall)
  • Dehydration, a risk for seniors, which can cause lightheadedness and dizziness and lead to a fall.

Tips for Reducing Your Chances of Falling

  • Ask your health care provider what exercise program is best for you and how to begin.
  • Have a health care provider review your medicines, including over-the-counter and herbal remedies, to ensure there are no drug interactions or side effects that may lead to dizziness. Do not change your medications on your own.
  • Have your vision checked. Any changes in vision can lead to falls.
  • Have your hearing checked. Dizziness can occur with hearing loss. The inner ear is responsible for balance in the body.
  • Keep hydrated. Drink water frequently, before you feel thirsty.
  • Make your home safer (see checklist below).

Home Safety Checklist

  • Remove throw rugs, add rubber mats underneath, or use doublesided tape to secure them from moving.
  • Use nonslip, rubber mats and handrails in the shower/tub.
  • Use a nightlight.
  • Make sure there is enough light in rooms--good lighting can reduce the chance of falls. • Have and use handrails on stairs.
  • Wear shoes that give good support and have nonslip soles.
  • Avoid night clothing that drags on the ground. Keep robes tied.
  • Immediately clean up spilled liquids, grease, and food.
  • Remove boxes, paper, shoes, or other obstacles away from walkways.
  • Keep a charged flashlight near your bed for emergencies.
  • Remove coffee tables, magazine racks, plants stands, and electrical cords from high-traffic areas.
  • Put regularly used items on shelves within easy reach between hip and eye level.
  • If you must reach overhead, use a sturdy stool.

Evaluate Your Risk

Take a moment to evaluate your personal risk. Look around your home and yard.

  • What are the fall risks in my home?
  • Is there anything I should stop doing to decrease my risk?
  • Is there something I can do, such as improving my muscle strength, to decrease my risk of falling?

Always remember, falls are preventable!

Source:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention (January 2016).

Prepared and updated by Laurie Welch, extension educator.

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