Falling is not a normal part of aging, and most falls can be prevented. By knowing and managing your risk factors, you can live a full and active life free of the fear of falling.
Involve your family in your quest to be falls-free. Taking action to prevent falls and maintain your independence is something to be proud of. By asking your family's help, you'll also be teaching them prevention techniques they'll use throughout their lives.
Take a falls risk self-assessment.
Stay Active and Healthy to Prevent Falls
- Simple exercise, like walking or swimming at least 15 minutes a day can help build muscle strength and improve balance, which can prevent falls.*
- Find a good balance and exercise program, like tai chi, to build balance, strength, and flexibility. Select a program you like and take a friend.*
- Talk to your health care provider and ask for an assessment of your risk of falling. Share your history of recent falls.
- Regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist for side effects that may increase your risk of falling.
- Get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eyeglasses.
- Slow down and think through the task you are performing. Be mindful of possible falls risks and act accordingly.
- Drink 6-8 glasses of non-alcoholic liquids each day to prevent low blood pressure, fatigue and confusion.
- Eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of vegetables and calcium-rich foods like yogurt, cheese, milk, orange juice, tofu and calcium-fortified cereals to promote your health.
* Consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine or program.
Learn to Prevent Falls
A Matter of Balance and Tai Chi are two community-based programs that have been proven to help individuals learn to manage their falls risk, build strength and balance, and increase activity levels without fear of falling.
Around the House
Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults
Falls prevention begins at home. As we age, our bodies change and things that were once appropriate for us may no longer be. By taking a few simple, inexpensive precautions, you can make your home immediately more fall-proof:
- Arrange furniture so you have a clear pathway between rooms.
- Place a lamp, telephone or flashlight near your bed.
- Install a night light along the route between your bedroom and the bathroom.
- Keep electric, appliance and telephone cords out of walkways, but do not put cords under a rug.
- Secure loose area rugs with double-faced tape, tacks, or slip-resistant backing.
- Store food, dishes and cooking equipment within easy reach.
- Repair loose stairway carpeting or wooden boards immediately.
- Do not store items in stairwells or hang things on stair rails.
- Put a bright-colored stripe of durable tape on the front edge of each stair so that you can see them better.
- Place a slip-resistant rug adjacent to the bathtub for safe exit and entry.
- Use a rubber mat or place nonskid adhesive textured strips inside the tub.
These home modifications and assistive devices may cost a little more than the steps above, but could be good investments in keeping your home safe now and in the future:
- Invest in a folding step-stool with a hand rail for access to out-of-reach places.
- Buy a cordless or cellular phone so that you don't have to rush to answer it and so that you'll have it handy to call for help should you fall.
- Add ceiling light fixtures with easy-to-reach switches to rooms that currently are only lit by lamps.
- If you use furniture, like chairs, tables and dressers, to steady yourself as you walk around, invest in a cane or walker instead.
- Install grab bars on bathroom walls near the bathtub, shower and toilet.
- Stabilize yourself on the toilet by using either raised seat or a special toilet seat with armrests.
- Use a sturdy, plastic seat in the bathtub if you cannot lower yourself to the floor of the tub or if you are unsteady.
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairway. Each should be 30 inches above the stairs and extend the full length of the stairs.
- Remove door sills higher than a half inch.
If you are a Medicaid or Medicare recipient, talk with your doctor about the potential benefits of an environmental falls assessment and if you may qualify for one to be conducted by a physical or occupational therapist.
If you aren't able or can't afford to take on these projects, there are many organizations throughout Ohio that may be able to help. Ask your area agency on aging, city or county office on aging, community action center, senior center or local United Way office about available programs in your area.
Preventing Falls with Pets in the Home
We know you love your furry, four-legged friends! Owning pets has real health benefits, but can also add to falls risks. Here are some tips to keep you from literally going head-over-heels for them:
- Don’t step over pets on the floor – make them move.
- Keep pet toys and supplies out of walkways.
- Check around you to see where your pets are before walking, especially on steps and near doorways.
- Use nightlights to help you see your pets in the dark.
- Put a collar with a bell on your pet so that you can hear when it is near.
- Teach your pets not to jump up on you or others while standing.
- If your pet is large or powerful enough to push or pull you over, ask for help walking it or consider obedience classes to teach proper leash behavior.
- Make sure your pet gets an appropriate amount of exercise; this will help it behave at home.
- Keep water and food bowls out of walkways and clean up spills immediately.
Manage Medications to Prevent Falls
By adopting and maintaining healthy habits, including an open dialogue with your doctor and pharmacist, you can avoid many risk factors that can lead to a fall and injury. Some prescription medications can increase your risk of falling because they may cause dizziness, drowsiness, numbness or may have other side effects that affect your balance and perception. We've joined with our partners at Ohio's Best Rx to offer these tips to help you reduce your risk of falling due to drug interactions or side effects:
- Maintain a list of all the drugs you take – Include doses, frequency and prescribing doctor. Also include any over-the-counter medicines (pain relievers, antacids, cold medicines, etc.) or supplements you take. Bring the list with you to doctor’s appointments and when you pick up prescriptions.
- Read the label – if it says “may cause dizziness or drowsiness,” or cautions against driving, ask about the best time to take it to avoid falls. Also ask about alternative treatments with less hazardous side effects.
- Take your medicine exactly as prescribed. If you find it hard to stick to a medication schedule or if you have trouble telling medicines apart, your doctor may have some ideas to help. Similarly, ask your doctor to write detailed directions on how and when to take your medications.
- Talk to your doctor about changes to your eating habits (such as a low-fat or high-calcium diet), as well as how much caffeine and alcohol you consume, as these can all affect how your medicines work.
- If you have trouble reading warning labels or directions on your medicine containers, your pharmacist may be able to provide the same information in an easier-to-read format.
- Choose over-the-counter medications that only have the ingredients you need. Your pharmacist can help select the best OTC options for your symptoms.
Autumn Falls Prevention
As the temperature starts its downward trend, and the days get increasingly shorter, it's time to start thinking about autumn and winter falls risks and how you can eliminate or reduce them.
- Leaves, branches and other debris from trees due to the change in seasons can make walkways slippery or hide tripping hazards, like uneven surfaces, edges and steps. Keep walkways clean, and if you can't see that the surface is clear and flat, pick another path.
- If winterizing your home includes cleaning gutters, changing light bulbs or other tasks that require you to get up high, use a step ladder or a step stool with a handle, and maintain three points of contact (two feet and a hand, or two hands and a foot) at all times. Do not climb on chairs or other furniture that was not designed for that purpose.
- Shorter days mean less direct sunlight and less sunlight overall, meaning you may need more light to get around your home safely. Invest in extra lamps, nightlights and exterior pathway lights to make sure you can always see where you are walking, especially around doorways and stairs. Use the highest-wattage bulb recommended for your fixtures.
- Don't let the cooler weather and shorter days limit your activity. Exercise that builds and maintains strength and balance is important to prevent falls year-round. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about indoor exercises that can help you maintain strength and balance when you can't venture out.
- As the temperature drops, bundle up to stay warm, but make sure you can see in all directions and move easily and freely.
- Keep shoes and walking aids (canes, walkers) free of dirt and mud. Dry them off immediately upon coming in from wet conditions. Remember, wet shoes are just as dangerous as wet floors.
Weather and Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults
Autumn Weather Safety for Older Adults
Winter Weather Safety for Older Adults
Ohio's local fairs, festivals and other attractions are great ways to get exercise that can help you prevent falls:
- As much as possible, stick to paved surfaces and sidewalks. Consider using a cane or walking stick for off-road walking.
- Watch where you are walking and do not step on or over trash, hoses and cables in walkways.
- Attend events and attractions during off-peak times, such as early in the day and on weekdays, to avoid large crowds.
- Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids to prevent dehydration and exhaustion, which can make you unsteady on your feet.
The chances of a fall go up when you are rushing around or distracted by crowds and sales. The Ohio Council of Retail Merchants and the Golden Buckeye Program have partnered with STEADY U Ohio to provide these tips for shoppers to prevent falls:
- Shop at off-peak times to avoid crowds and long waits. Bring someone with you who can wait in line for you while you sit and rest.
- Report slipping hazards, such as spills, loose rugs or mats, and unsafe sidewalks or stairs to store staff immediately.
- Avoid walking around items blocking aisles or displays that block your view of other shoppers and obstacles. Tell store staff that you think these are hazardous.
- Ask store staff for help carrying heavy or bulky packages or bags to your vehicle. Avoid carrying large, low-hanging bags that can trip you.
- If you use your cane or walker, always shop with it or take advantage of the mobility scooters many stores provide if you could be on your feet for longer than you usually find comfortable.
- Tell store staff if you see anybody behaving in an unsafe manner.
- If you fall, even if you're not hurt, notify store staff and management right away so that they can document the incident and take steps to prevent future accidents.
Retailers: Make your business a falls-free zone!
Helping Loved Ones Prevent Falls
A single fall can change someone's life significantly and make her more reliant on others for help. As a someone who cares for or about an older loved one, you have to find the balance between ensuring your loved one is safe, and respecting her right to make decisions for herself.
Talk about falls prevention... often. Many older adults are reluctant to talk about falling because they see it as a threat to their independence. Bring the topic up frequently with your loved one and be persistent, but respectful. If he says he doesn't want to talk about it, that's OK, but bring the topic up again, soon.
- Assure him that falling is not a normal part of aging and that most falls can be prevented.
- Use tools like the Falls Risk Self-assessment to help him see his health and environment in new ways.
- Share stories of others you know who have fallen, even your own experiences; ask open-ended questions like: "what could she have done to prevent that fall?"
Don't let someone you care about become afraid of falling. People who fall (or nearly fall) may develop a fear of falling and modify their behavior in ways that actually increase their risk of falling again, such as becoming less active and changing the way they walk. A Matter of Balance is a free, community-based workshop that can help your loved one (and you) learn to see falls as something that can be controlled.
Help your loved one remain physically active. Any type of movement helps, from simply lifting your legs while you watch TV and marching in place in the kitchen, to walking and swimming, to exercise programs like yoga and tai chi.
- Build on activities that she enjoys and talk with her about things she'd like to try.
- Find out about local exercise programs for older adults by contacting your local senior center, community action agency or agency on aging.
- Discuss any new or intensified exercise or activity with a doctor to ensure that the activity is safe and appropriate.
- Ask her doctor about inner-ear conditions and medication side effects.
- Make sure she has her vision checked regularly, that her glasses fit properly and that she wears them when she's active.
- Offer to exercise with her.
Don't ignore chronic pain. Individuals with severe chronic pain are up to 77 percent more likely to fall than those without pain. Pain can cause your loved one to resist activity and exercise. Likewise, some pain medications can make him less stable on his feet.
- Talk with your doctor and your loved one about the pain he experiences and the best ways to treat the underlying causes of the pain.
- Learn strategies for coping with and reducing pain, such as distraction and relaxation exercises, and balancing activity. Healthy U is a program that can help.
Include your loved one in decisions about changes to her home. There are many simple and inexpensive changes that can significantly reduce the risk of slipping, tripping and falling. However, the decision to change her home must be hers. Suggest small changes first (e.g., rugs, night lights) and work your way up to bigger modifications (e.g., grab bars).
Encourage appropriate use of assistive devices. Walkers and canes can help with balance. Folding step stools with hand rails are a far safer alternative to reaching high places than chairs or other furniture. Other devices, such as tools for reaching and grabbing, can keep a loved one from over-extending and losing balance.
Regarding canes and walkers:
- Be sure canes and walkers are the right size and properly adjusted for your loved one (i.e., with the handle at wrist height).
- Regularly check the rubber tips on canes and walkers and replace them if they appear worn, dried out or damaged.
- If your loved one uses a cane or walker while out and about, he should use them to get around the house as well.
Promote good nutrition and hydration. A balanced diet with a variety of vegetables and calcium-rich foods promotes overall general health and minimizes the symptoms of some chronic illnesses. Staying properly hydrated prevents low blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue and confusion.
- Offer a variety of beverage choices, such as different flavorings and various temperatures.
- Encourage your loved one to eat fruits and vegetables that help with hydration, such as watermelon and applesauce.
- Encourage frequent trips to the bathroom or suggest a regular schedule to prevent her from having to go in a hurry.
- Talk with her and her doctor about medical conditions and medications that can cause dehydration or frequent urination.
Print and Go!
Tip Sheet: How Individuals Can Prevent Falls
Tip Sheet: How Family Caregivers Can Prevent Falls
While our goal is to keep the worst from happening, it's good to be prepared in case it does. Register yourself and your loved ones in the Emergency Contact Information - Next of Kin Program of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles today. It provides first responders with vital information in the event that someone is unable to communicate with them during an emergency.