With fall just around the corner, what better time to start a fall prevention plan? Each year, 37.3 million plus falls are severe enough to require medical attention. In the US, unintentional falls are a leading cause of injury in the workplace. They are particularly dangerous to the 65+ set; in the US alone, as many as 1 on 3 adults in this age group fall annually. Along with the physical risks associated with falls, falls carry a certain emotional and psychological weight–a “first fall” can feel like a frightening milestone.
The good news is that there are many ways to reduce your risk for falls through exercise–and many of them double as ways to improve your quality of life overall!
Before embarking on the exercise portion of a fall prevention program, it’s important to eliminate some of the basic risk factor conditions. These include:
- Environment: Observe your home and workplace for hazards, such as slippery floors, steep stairs, and low-lying furniture or decor. Bring in new equipment or implement new “rules” to counteract these threats. For example:
- Invest in a good bathmat and perhaps bars or other support equipment for your shower–you’ll appreciate them at any age for those sleepy mornings!
- Consider adding rugs to areas with exposed hard floor–just make sure you also use rug runners or other tools to keep the rugs close to the ground and avoid making them a trip hazard.
- Consider replacing low lying furniture or decor, like coffee tables, messy power cables, etc, or moving these hazards closer to the wall.
- Reassess your lighting–if you regularly need to grow a dark room, consider adding lamps or remote switches to the entrances of the room.
- Wear slippers with good grips inside the house
- Be mindful when walking down the stairs– trying hanging a piece of artwork to remind yourself to keep stairs clutter free and take them cautiously.
- At work, document and report any risk factors.
- Lifestyle and Behavioral: Assess your nutrition intake, substance use, dress, etc. for red flags
- Make sure you are eating well, and regularly– spreading meals out too much can lead to lightheadedness.
- Drink more water! Dehydration makes you feel dizzy–keep on top of your water intake.
- Be mindful of substance use.
- Be mindful of the shoes you wear. Shoes should be supportive, fit well, and have the soles replaces regularly as they wear down.
- Health: Consult with a physician regularly about risk factors.
- Many medications have side effects that may impair your coordination. Review any meds you are on carefully with your physician, and seek alternatives if the side effects are pronounced.
- Get checked regularly for ear infections–they may not seem like a huge deal, but can really mess up your equilibrium.
- Get checked for and monitor other conditions that pose a threat to your balance, such as low blood pressure.
- Have your vision checked regularly.
- If you notice a specific problem, such as weakness in an ankle, have it checked out and ask about appropriate supportive devices.
- Go over your nutritional intake with a trained professional, and take supplements as prescribed.
Exercise is an integral part of a proactive fall prevention plan. However, done poorly, some activities could actually put you at risk of falling. That’s why it’s especially important to work with a medically trained professional, such as a physical therapist, when developing a fall prevention plan. PTs and other specialists can evaluate your fitness levels and prescribe specific activities and stretches to meet your needs, including group, solitary, and at home exercises.
Numerous studies suggest Tai Chi offers a number of benefits to participants, who see results such as better bone density, improved balance, and less pain. There’s also a social element to Tai Chi that can be very comforting and confidence boosting.
Water exercises are perfect for anyone who wants to both reap the benefits of cardio and improve strength in their lower extremities in a fall-proof environment. Studies suggest that water exercises significantly lower the risk of falling in some adults. Well, almost fall-proof–you’ll definitely need to take caution on the pool deck and it the locker room, so bring good slippers with lots of grip. Water exercises can be as basic as walking laps in a pool, or you can try a class to get more of that social benefit. If you are going solo, consult a professional to get the inside scoop on what routines will be most effective for you.
A physical therapist can help you learn and complete balance exercises, such as leg lifts. Preferably, these should be done at a PT facility regularly, where a trained professional can evaluate form, provide support, and insure the environment is safe.
Ready to develop a personalized fall prevention plan that will leave you feeling more confident and safer? Contact Advanced Physical Therapy of Freehold to request an appointment.