My latest fall (no drumroll, please) was a few weeks ago. The other times it was tripping over potholes, missing curbs, climbing over a make-shift chicken wire fence with a puppy in my hand, going head first over luggage at the airport and, ahem, riding a too high male bike in cowboy boots.
This time it was vanity—showing my grandchildren, ages 2 and 3, how cool Grandma was, running up and down wooden bleachers at a nature preserve outdoor amphitheater.
What was Grandma thinking? I tripped on my first step. There was blood extraordinaire from the two deep gashes below the knee. (All I could do was laugh since it was my fourth fall in front of my son and his wife—and we live on opposite coasts.)
Weeks later, I still have two scars. As the weather warms and it is skirt and dress season, I am constantly reminded of my hubris.
It is also a reminder that I might need to be more careful; I forget that what I was able to do effortlessly even five years ago may be more challenging now.
Falling less has been a big priority for me. With a trainer, I focus on balance and strength training. Besides my latest mishap (those bleachers), I have been steady on my feet for a long stretch.
But what more can/should I do?
And what about all these baby boomers who have frail parents? They need guidance, too.
I recently attended the American Society of Aging annual conference and sat in on a session on falls. Experts presented on fall prevention, detection, post-fall programs, the latest research and technologies, and balance, stretch and strength training.
I was all ears. Experts peppered us with facts. These include:
- Every year, one out of four U.S. adults age 65+ falls. (I’ve also seen the figure as high as one out of three.)
- Falls are the leading cause of death and injury for this age group. According to Dr. Marc Rothman, the former chief medical officer for Kindred Health and an expert in aging, “falls are an older person’s motor vehicle accident.” (Teens have the highest driving mortality rate.)
- More nursing home placements occur as a result of falls
- Every second, an older adult has a fall and every 11 seconds, someone 65+ is treated in the emergency room for one
- Costs resulting from falls were nearly $50 billion in 2015 and are expected to spike to $101 billion by 2030
- Someone with dementia falls two to three times more than their counterpart without cognitive issues
It also makes sense that if you fall, you are more likely to fall again.
But being cautious so you don’t take a spill can have consequences, too. You may become timid or curtail your activities and decrease your mobility, reducing your muscle strength and endurance.
That’s not good, either. It can narrow your world and restrict your quality of life.
You should be proactive.
1. Understand what causes falls
Some factors are: poor balance, mobility, motor skills, coordination and flexibility, bad eyesight; medications and environmental hazards. Even your furry pet (about 86,000 falls a year involve cats and dogs).
If you need to shore up your core or get stronger, let’s say, do exercises that target balance, gait and strength.
2. Ask your pharmacist or physician to review your medications
Some prescribed for heart and blood pressure, sleep, anxiety, dementia, arthritis, digestive, allergies, blood clots, stomach and bladder control may increase fall risk.
And some alone, or in combination, can make you drowsy—the better to take a spill.
3. Make sure your home is safe
Is it well lit? Should you have bare floors rather than area rugs? Are there electrical cords or clutter on the ground that could be tripping hazards? What about installing grab bars in the bathroom? Are there just too many steps (and it’s time to think of moving)?
You can hire a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (known as CAPS) who is trained to do a home safety assessment, make recommendations and remediate hazards. They are certified through the National Home Builders Association and provide the names of CAPS around the country.
The Centers for Disease Control also have a home safety checklist.
4. Use a cane or walker if you need it
Vanity should not trump safety. Among the positives: assistive devices can improve balance, offer support, and even allow you to live independently longer.
5. Keep an eye on your eyes
Those with vision problems are twice as likely to fall. They may not see contrasts of color, an uneven sidewalk or something on the rug. Poor sight can impact balance and walking.
6. Dress sensibly
Be fashion-forward but sensible. Four-inch heels may look great, but can make you totter and tumble. How about a short wedge?
Slippery socks on a bare floor can also spell trouble. Instead, think about slippers or shoes with rubber soles.
7. Consider technology
There are many types of medical alert technology now available.
The Apple watch Series 4, for instance, can detect a hard fall. It will tap you on the wrist, sound an alarm and display an alert. You can press “I’m OK” or ask for help. If you are immobile for more than a minute and don’t respond, it automatically summons help, identifying your location through GPS.
Wearable sensors (think pendants and wrist gadgets) and home systems can also be a lifeline.
About to launch this summer is Zibrio SmartScale and Balance Coach App. It tracks your balance (by standing on a special scale for 60 seconds), assesses your risk for falls and makes personal recommendations.
Zibrio’s technology was originally used inside a space boot to measure the balance of astronauts during and after flights.