One in three adults age 65 and older falls each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be a jarring experience—but there are plenty of things you can do to prevent falls and regain ground if you’ve taken a tumble.
Your approach may vary depending on your living situation and health, but in general should include proper exercise, home safety installments and simple lifestyle changes.
Strengthen your muscles
Physical activity is both a key component of fall prevention and crucial to recovery, says Rudy Martin, a physical therapist at Sequoia Physical Therapy in Buena Park, California. “Fear of falling actually leads to falls,” Martin says. “Fear causes inactivity, which causes weakness and a lack of challenging oneself.”
If you’ve recently taken a fall, it is important to investigate the cause of the fall and to determine whether this may become a recurrent event. Falls may be caused by visual, neurological, environmental, mental, vestibular or physical causes. Work with your health care provider or physical therapist to assess your situation and gradually reintroduce physical activity in a monitored environment.
Martin has helped seniors recover from falls and prevent future falls using techniques such as balance training, strengthening exercises and flexibility training. These techniques help to reduce fall frequency or eliminate future falls altogether. Your provider may also advise you to complete daily exercises at home.
In-home exercises target:
- Balance—Practice standing at the kitchen counter, while holding onto the counter at first. It’s a good idea to have a caregiver or family member nearby, in case you lose your balance during this exercise. When you feel secure enough, try standing without holding on or even standing on one leg.
- Vision—Eye-tracking exercises can help improve your peripheral vision, allowing you to better see the space and potential hazards around you.
- Posture and strength—Your physician may prescribe specific postural and strengthening exercises based on your individual needs.
Create a safe space
Aside from regaining strength and agility, fall recovery and prevention also involve rearranging your living space to make it easier to get around.
If your fall resulted in a hospital stay, an occupational therapist will likely conduct a home safety evaluation and provide training on safer ways of completing daily activities, says Dr. Steven Castle, professor of medicine at the University of California’s David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles and clinical director of geriatrics at the VA Greater Los Angeles.
An occupational therapist may suggest
- Removing tripping hazards, such as rugs
- Installing grab bars and railings in and around showers, bathtubs and toilets
- Improving the lighting and installing nightlights in all rooms to make sure walkways and furniture are adequately lit day and night
Family members and caregivers are incorporated into the plan of care to ensure patient safety, assess the home environment and encourage activity. “Family members naturally want to help by doing everything for their loved ones—but this can be counter-productive,” Martin says. “Our goal is to safely maximize their independence.”
Aid your feet
Even if you don’t have a caregiver at your side, there are a couple of additional steps you can take to get back on your feet.
“Every senior who is recovering from a fall should review current medications and dosages with a doctor,” Castle says. Sleep aids and blood pressure medication may cause drowsiness or dizziness that can lead to another fall. Blood thinners—key in preventing strokes, blood clots or heart attacks—could also increase bleeding in the event of a fall. The risks and benefits of these medications should be reviewed with your doctor.
Mobility aids may also be prescribed as an added safety measure. “If you have had more than one fall or an injury from a fall, then it is recommended you be assessed for a mobility aid such as a cane or walker and receive training from a physical therapist on how to properly use your mobility aid,” Castle says.
Finally, don’t forget about footwear. “Seniors are 14 times more likely to fall if they are barefoot or wearing socks in the house,” Castle says. Shoes help distribute weight from the heels to the balls of the feet, which improves balance, Castle says. Wear shoes with a non-slip sole at all times—even in the house.
“Most people consider a fall an ‘accident,’ when in reality, changes in your balance and mobility may have accumulated,” Castle says. “Mindful awareness that your balance is not like when you were younger is necessary to make important lifestyle adjustments for your wellness.”