By Fiona McMahon
I want to talk about a health risk that is seldom thought of when we think about health, falls. According to the CDC, elderly men are the most likely to pass away from a fall. White men in particular, are at risk for falls and are 2.7 times more likely to fall than their black men. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non fatal injuries in older women and men.
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There are simple steps you can take to limit your fall risk. A good first step is having your primary care provider review your current medications, both prescription and over the counter. You may find you are on many medications that treat the same thing. Your doctor can help determine if this is the case. Some medications, for example those that cause dizziness, can increase your risk of falls and your doctor may want to adjust them.
Another important step to minimize your fall risk is to have regular eye exams. Vision is an important part of our balance system and as we age, we may grow increasingly reliant on it. The CDC also advises seniors to get single distance lenses for outside activities like walking.
Modifications can also be added to your home to make it safer. Adding additional handrails to your stairs, removing area rugs, adding non slip mats to your bathtub, and keeping your home neat and free of debris are all great steps to improving your overall safety.
One of the most important components in reducing your fall risk is remaining active. The old adages, “a body in motion, tends to stay in motion” and “use it or lose it” could not ring more true. Sarcopenia is the term that’s given to the gradual loss of muscle one experiences as he or she ages. We can begin slowly losing muscle fibers as early as 30 years old! With the gradual loss of muscle tissue we gradually lose strength and it becomes much more difficult to do things that were once previously easy. Weaker muscles will make it harder to keep your balance. Remaining active and making sure you are eating enough of the right food can go a really long way towards slowing your rate of muscle loss as you age.
Even if you are not very active now, there are simple steps you can take toward reducing the rate of age-related muscle loss and maintaining your functional independence. Adding in more walking is a relatively easy thing to do. If you live in the city, get off the bus or subway a station early and walk the extra distance. You can also do your shopping at a bodega further away from your apartment. If you are a suburban or country guy or gal, park your car a little further away from the grocery store.
Another great idea is doing a little extra work when you get up out of a chair. Being able to get out of your chair by yourself is an important skill to maintain your independence. When you get up out of your chair, sit back down and get up a couple of extra times. This is like doing a mini-squat. “Sit-to-stands” as they’re called, are lovely exercises that strengthen all of your thigh muscles without having to go to the gym!
If you have fallen in the past year you are at risk for future falls. Medicare requires physical therapists to incorporate fall training into your plan of care if you have had a fall in the past year or demonstrate a risk for falls as determined by your physical therapy examination. Physical therapy doesn’t just teach you skills that improve balance, it can also teach you potentially lifesaving skills like being able to get up from the floor independently. PTs will also strengthen the key muscles used for balance and give you exercise that gradually train your balance.
Beyond Basics can offer a little something extra to complete your fall training program. If you have incontinence either urinary or fecal, you are at an increased risk for falls. People with incontinence can fall for a multitude of different reasons. They may fall because of slippery floors that occur as a result of an episode of incontinence, or they may trip while rushing to the bathroom. Whatever the reason is, our therapists are specially trained to determine the reason for incontinence and implement a program to correct it.
You don’t have to accept falling, or incontinence, as a natural part of getting older. Whether you decide to start on your own, join a Tai Chi or balance training class at the gym, or whether you decide to seek help from a skilled physical therapist, act now, your health and independence depends on it.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls among older adults: an overview. http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html. Last reviewed March 19. 2015. Assessed June 18,2015.