Thursday, April 30, 2009

Preventing Falls

Earlier this week, we talked about the importance of preventing falls in keeping your parents healthy and independent. It is equally important for you to check your own situation for hazards so that you can continue caring effectively. Here are some tips in each of the five prevention areas:

Prevent Osteoporosis
  • Eat or drink sufficient calcium. Post-menopausal women need 1,500 mg of calcium daily. Men over 50 need 1,200 mg per day. Calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, cheese, fish and shellfish, selected vegetables such as broccoli, soybeans, collards and turnip greens, tofu and almonds.
  • Get sufficient vitamin D to enhance the absorption of calcium into the bloodstream. Men and women over 50 need between 400 IU and 600 IU daily. Vitamin D is formed naturally in the body after exposure to sunlight, but some older adults may need a supplement. Check with a doctor for more details.
  • Do regular weight-bearing exercises. There are many ways to add weight. Lifting books and walking use weight and gravity to give your bones a workout. Use light exercise bands, hand-held weights, or weights that slip around wrist or ankle when exercising or when doing housework, gardening, or mowing the lawn with a push mower.

Get Moving!
  • You've heard this before, many times...because it's TRUE. Maintain a regular exercise routine (e.g., every day for about 15 minutes, every other day for 30 minutes a day) designed to increase muscle and bone strength, and to improve balance and flexibility. Choose something enjoyable that you will stick to, and be consistent. Mix it up. Walk one day, use light bands for strength exercise another day, do water aerobics another. Check with a doctor to design a program right for you.
  • Undertake daily activities in a safe manner, such as reaching and bending properly, taking time to recover balance when rising from a chair or bed, learning the proper way to fall, and learning how to recover after a fall.
  • For improved balance, try Tai Chi. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta found that this Chinese martial art of slow steady body movement improved balance in older people after just a few weeks and cut the risk of falling nearly in half.

Check Your Vision
  • Clean eye glasses often to improve visibility. It's a simple thing, but critical!
  • Wear the glasses prescribed by the physician. Don't be vain, we're talking about avoiding broken bones and torn muscles.
  • Have annual checkups by an optometrist to discern the extent of age-related eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Use color and contrast to define balance-aiding objects in the home (e.g., grab bars and handrails).
  • Add contrasting color strips to first and last steps to identify change of level.

Review Your Medications

  • Know the common side effects of all medications being taken.
  • Talk with a physician or pharmacist about ways to reduce the chances of falling by using the lowest effective dosage, regularly assessing the need for continued medication, and the need for walking aids while taking medications that affect balance.
  • Remove all out-of-date medications and those no longer in use.
  • Suggest that a physician or pharmacist conduct a "brown bag lunch" medicine review of all current medications at a local senior center and attend.
  • Limit intake of alcohol as it may interact with medications.

Make Your Home Safe

Did you know that one-third of all falls occur inside the house? You do a safety check if you have an infant or toddler in the house. Why not give your parent (and yourself) the same consideration?

  • Do a safety check around the house. Check for clutter, extension cords, scatter rugs that may slide and flooring that may be uneven.
  • Improve lighting
  • The bathroom can be a dangerous place. Add sturdy handrails in the tub, shower and by the toilet.
  • For a checklist of ways to make the home fall-resistant, check out the web site at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (See the "Preventing Falls: Resources" post).


  • Be very conscious of where you’re walking when moving out and about. Slow down.
  • Uneven walking surfaces, like uneven pavement, cracks and sidewalk potholes can be treacherous. Make sure that all the walks and driveway at the house are in good repair.
  • Mother Nature does her share to trip up a walker. Snow and ice are the biggest culprits here. Prevention means proper shoes for inclement weather and a bag of kitty litter in the car to take care of slippery spots.

Dress Properly for Walking

  • Wear low-heeled shoes with rubber soles. You’ll see many seniors in good athletic walking or running shoes. These give support and do not easily slip. Avoid leather soles and scuffy slippers.
  • Ask your doctor where you might obtain protective gear available to protect hips and limbs when you do fall. Elbow and knee pads that are used for roller blading or skateboarding are good.
  • Make sure that clothes fit properly. No long pant cuffs over which you might trip. Keep sleeves the proper length so that you can get a good grip on a handrail, walker or cane. Trousers that are too baggy can impede your progress.
  • For women, consider using shoulder bags that you can carry across your chest or small backpacks instead of purses which you clutch under your arm or hold in your fist. Shoulder bags and small backpacks keep both hands free to assist in balance and for gripping.

Many of these tips come from organizations and professionals who have many more suggestions. I've listed these in another post entitled "Preventing Falls: Resources". Check it out!

Have a safe and happy day!

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