Last Updated: April 2, 2013
A simple fall can change your life. Just ask any of the
thousands of older men and women who fall each year and break a
bone (sometimes called fracture).
Getting older can bring lots of changes. Sight, hearing, muscle
strength, coordination and reflexes aren't what they once were.
Balance can be affected by diabetes and heart disease, or by
problems with your circulation, thyroid or nervous system. Some
medicines can cause dizziness. Any of these things can make a fall
osteoporosis-a disease that makes bones thin and likely to
break easily. Osteoporosis is a major reason for broken bones in
women past menopause. It also affects older men. When your bones
are fragile even a minor fall can cause one or more bones to break.
Although people with osteoporosis must be very careful to avoid
falls, all of us need to take extra care as we get older.
A broken bone may not sound so terrible. After all, it will
heal, right? But as we get older a break can be the start of more
serious problems. The good news is that there are simple things you
can do to help prevent most falls.
Take the Right Steps
Falls and accidents seldom "just happen." The more you take care
of your overall health and well-being, the more likely you'll be to
lower your chances of falling. Here are a few hints:
- Ask your doctor about a special test-called a bone mineral
density test-that tells how strong your bones are. If need be, your
doctor can prescribe new medications that will help make your bones
stronger and harder to break.
- Talk with your doctor and plan an exercise program that is
right for you. Regular exercise helps keep you strong and improves
muscle tone. It also helps keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments
flexible. Mild weight-bearing exercise-such as walking, climbing
stairs-may even slow bone loss from osteoporosis.
- Have your vision and hearing tested often.Even small changes in
hearing can make you less stable. So, for example, if your
doctor orders new eyeglasses, take time to get used to them, and
always wear them when you should or, if you need a hearing aid, be
sure it fits well.
- Findout about the possible side effects of medicines you take.
Some medicines might affect your coordination or balance. If so,
ask your doctor or pharmacist what you can do to lessen your chance
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Even a small amount can
affect your balance and reflexes.
- Always stand up slowly after eating, lying down, or resting.
Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop, which
can make you feel faint.
- Don't let your home get too cold or too hot...it can make you
dizzy. In the summer-if your home is not air-conditioned-keep cool
with an electric fan, drink lots of liquids, and limit exercise. In
the winter, keep the nighttime temperature at 65° or warmer.
- Use a cane, walking stick, or walker to help you feel steadier
when you walk. This is very important when you're walking in areas
you don't know well or in places where the walkways are uneven. And
be very careful when walking on wet or icy surfaces. They can be
very slippery! Try to have sand or salt spread on icy areas.
- Wear rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes that fully support your
feet. Wearing only socks or shoes with smooth soles on stairs or
waxed floors can be unsafe.
- Hold the handrails when you use the stairs. If you must carry
something while you're going up or down, hold it in one hand and
use the handrail with the other.
- Don't take chances. Stay away from a freshly washed floor. And
don't stand on a chair or table to reach something that's too
high-use a "reach stick" instead. Reach sticks are special grabbing
tools that you can buy at many hardware or most medical supply
- Find out about buying a home monitoring system service.
Usually, you wear a button on a chain around your neck. If you fall
or need emergency help, you just push the button to alert the
service. Emergency staff is then sent to your home. You can find
local "medical alarm" services in your yellow pages.
Most medical insurance companies and
Medicare do not cover items like home monitoring systems and
reach sticks. So be sure to ask about cost. You will probably have
to pay for them yourself.
Make Your Home Safe
You can help prevent falls by making changes to unsafe areas in
your home with these
home safety tips.
In stairways, hallways, and pathways:
- Make sure there is good lighting with light switches at the top
and bottom of the stairs.
- Keep areas where you walk tidy.
- Check that all carpets are fixed firmly to the floor so they
won't slip. Put no-slip strips on tile and wooden floors. You can
buy these strips at the hardware store.
- Have handrails on both sides of all stairs-from top to
bottom-and be sure they're tightly fastened.
In bathrooms and powder rooms:
- Mount grab bars near toilets and on both the inside and outside
of your tub and shower.
- Place non-skid mats, strips, or carpet on all surfaces that may
- Keep night lights on.
In your bedroom:
- Put night lights and light switches close to your bed.
- Keep your telephone near your bed.
In other living areas:
- Keep electric cords and telephone wires near walls and away
from walking paths.
- Tack down all carpets and area rugs firmly to the floor.
- Arrange your furniture (especially low coffee tables) and other
objects so they are not in your way when you walk.
- Make sure your sofas and chairs are a good height for you, so
that you can get into and out of them easily.
Source: National Institute on Aging, www.nia.nih.gov (Original
title:Falls and Fractures)