Resources - September 21, 2020
by Amanda Ranowsky
I’ve been very lucky. My sense of balance has kept me from many serious falls in my lifetime. This is notable, because I stumble quite a lot. I suffer from a classic case of being a klutz. In spite of this – or perhaps due to skills developed because of it – I have avoided any broken bones or critical injuries.
The worst fall I can remember happened when I was five years old. As I tumbled, my head met the edge of a door, and my parents quickly whisked me off to the hospital. Back then, getting stitches was scarier than the actual fall, and I quickly bounced back and resumed the normal activities of your average, active five-year-old.
As we age, bouncing back becomes harder and falls can become more common. This is due partly to natural changes in the body that simply occur over time. Our activity level and balance tend to decrease. We might develop vision problems or osteoporosis. We might be taking more medications, which could have side effects such as disorientation and dizziness. All these factors can contribute to increasing our chances of a fall.
The proof is in the statistics. One in four Americans over the age of 65 falls each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We take this very seriously, because falls are the leading cause of fatal injury among older adults and each year result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments.
Falls are not inevitable. There is plenty you can do – whatever your age – to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a fall. As this is National Falls Prevention Awareness Week, I asked Alexandria Ramirez, a physical therapist for Goodwin House Home Health, to offer some top tips for creating a lifestyle that will help prevent a fall.
Working more than eight years in home health, Alexandria oversees therapy and care for older adults who are often recovering from falls. She sees first-hand the results of falls and what it can take to recover from serious injuries caused by them. She often advises older adults to create the best possible lifestyle, one that minimizes your risk of falls.
Alexandria started by sharing this: “There are two types of causes for falls: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic causes are things like vision, balance and other aspects of our personal health and physical condition. Extrinsic causes are those that relate to our surroundings, or choices in clothing, footwear and use of assistive devices.”
Alexandria went on to share that she starts with three top tips to prevent a fall:
One of the best and easiest steps you can take to prevent a fall is to make your home a fall-free zone. Proper organization, cleaning and the use of safety features can go a long way toward preventing a fall.
Proper lighting is another big one. You won’t get far if you can’t see where you are going. Make sure you have plenty of light in the house, day and night, so you can see clearly. That might mean setting up more lamps around the house, or using curtains that let in a bit more light during the day. And be sure to have nightlights that help you find your way in the dark, should you get up in the middle of the night for any reason.
Keeping all of your pathways clear is another critical step toward preventing a fall. Make sure there is no litter on the floor or items such as electric cords or the edges of furniture that stick out where they could trip you. Also, be aware of area rugs, which can easily catch on walkers, canes or even just your feet.
Bathrooms are among the most common areas of a home where falls occur. Install grab bars in the shower and wherever else you are likely to feel unsteady. Use proper floor mats instead of towels, which could easily slip or bunch up as you step on them.
Another top tip from Alexandria is to consider having an occupational therapist come in to make recommendations for setting up a safe home. Goodwin House at Home provides this service to members as part of their benefits. An online search should offer you some options for home assessment services.
Your home is not the only thing for you to keep fit. Personal health is a major factor in both avoiding a fall and being able to recover should you experience one.
Strength, balance and posture are three key aspects of physical fitness that help you stay upright. Goodwin House Fitness Instructor Leslie LaPlace offers a workout routine that can improve all three.
Tai Chi, yoga (or chair yoga) and posture training are great exercises you can perform to keep up and improve your physicality. At Goodwin House, we offer residents SAIL classes – Stay Active and Independent for Life. SAIL is a strength, balance and fitness class designed specifically to help older adults prevent falls. See if there is a course offered near you!
Make sure you stay hydrated, especially while exercising. Proper hydration is another key factor in preventing falls.
Staying aware of your surroundings will go a long way toward preventing a fall, but being aware of yourself is just as important. Do you have any diagnoses that may affect the way your body moves? Are you using all the tools at your disposal that could help you stay upright?
Diagnoses such as neuropathy can cause numbness and sensitivity in your legs, feet and arms. This can lead to a loss of balance and a fall. Neuropathy is commonly associated with conditions such as diabetes, but could also develop as a normal symptom of aging.
Many chronic conditions require medications, which could cause side effects that lead to a fall. Talk to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment that will manage your condition without increasing your risk of a fall. Also talk to your healthcare provider about the potential side effects of any medications you must take in order to manage your health. Knowledge is key – stay informed!
Be sure to make smart choices in clothing and footwear. Try to avoid pants that are too long or loose and shoes that are ill fitted or lacking support. Don’t become a literal victim to fashion! And don’t be afraid to use assistive devices as needed. Better to use a walking aid and stay upright, than to have a fall that causes greater health problems. If you simply can’t bear to use a cane, Alexandria advises that you try a walking stick – a trendy alternative (and one wise fashion choice) that will do the job just as well!
There are times when we could all use a little help. If you’re concerned about your risk of falling, it might be time to consider your options. If you feel you need some help to prevent a fall, talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to a specialist. You may even be able to receive services in your own home.
Our Home Health team, a newly acquired service line, provides Medicare-certified service to patients in the comfort of their own homes or retirement communities throughout the Northern Virginia cities and counties of Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William. Home Health offers a wide range of services including physical and occupational therapy.
As you consider the best options you can pursue to prevent a fall, check out more Strategies to Avoid a Serious Fall.
As Marketing & Communications Specialist, Amanda Ranowsky partners with colleagues throughout Goodwin House to tell our stories and raise brand awareness. From printed collateral to digital marketing, Amanda covers many bases. Before joining GHI, Amanda worked for a small, family-owned business where she gained experience in content marketing. Amanda’s creative expression extends beyond the office. She is an active member of community theater and chorus groups.