Falls are one of the biggest contributors to fatal and nonfatal injuries among seniors. Such accidents not only threaten safety, but they also can compromise a person's independence. Falls can cause broken bones, impaired mobility and even death.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says every 13 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall. In addition, every 20 minutes an older adult dies from a fall. One-third of Americans age 65 and older falls each year. Falls do not have to be an accepted side effect of aging. With some balance training and other techniques, older men and women can avoid falls and the injuries that result.
The National Council on Aging and its National Falls Prevention Resource Center have implemented fall-prevention programs. By following these guidelines, individuals can remain safe and upright.
• Get a vision check-up. A decrease in visual ability and perception can increase risk of falls. Impaired vision can cause people to trip over items they can't see, miss steps or bump into obstacles. Make sure your vision has been checked recently and you are using contact lenses or glasses as prescribed by an eye doctor.
• Know your medication side effects. Ask your doctor about the medications you are taking and whether they can contribute to dizziness or decreased balance. Medicines that affect blood pressure can lead to light-headedness as well. Your doctor may be able to substitute a medication with an alternative if your existing prescription is affecting your balance.
• Begin a regimen of strength training. The National Institutes of Health suggests strength exercises to keep muscles strong. Strength training also can impact the strength of bones, as well as increase metabolism to keep weight and blood sugar in check.
• Engage in specific balance exercises. Balance exercises can improve stability. Balancing on one foot while standing for a period of time is one such exercise. Stand up from a seated position without using your hands, then shift your weight from the left to the right while standing on the respective leg on that side. A physical therapist can work with you to ensure you are using correct form in balance exercises.
• Try tai chi. Look for tai chi classes at a gym or senior center. Tai chi is a form of movement training that can help strengthen the body, improve balance and improve flexibility.
• Be aware of posture. Try to maintain weight over the ankles. Do not lean too far forward or backward, which can cause you to topple over. Keep your feet in a wide stance while standing to improve stability.
• Don't make quick movements. Always stand up and sit down slowly. Jarring motions may affect equilibrium or blood pressure, leading to unsteadiness.
Always consult with a doctor before beginning any balance exercises or if you suspect balance issues are stemming from an illness or condition. With practice and patience, older adults can remain independent and prevent falls.