Falls are not inevitable, even as we age. But a trip on a rug or slip on a wet floor can change your life: you could break a bone. For older people, breaks can lead to more serious problems.
Many things can cause a fall. Your eyesight, hearing, and reflexes might not be as sharp as when you were younger. Diabetes, heart disease, or other health problems can affect balance. Some medicines can make you dizzy or sleepy, making falls more likely.
Do not let fear of falling keep you from being active. Getting together with friends, gardening, walking, or going to the local senior center can help you stay healthy and happy. There are simple ways to prevent most falls.
"Injuries from falls are a major cause of loss of independence for older people. This is a significant public health problem."
—Dr. Richard J. Hodes, Director, National Institute on Aging
Take The Right Steps for Safety
Most falls and accidents don't "just happen." Here are some steps to avoid falls and broken bones:
- Stay physically active. Regular exercise makes you stronger. It also helps keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Walking, climbing stairs, and other mild weight-bearing activities may slow bone loss from osteoporosis.
- Have your eyes and hearing tested. Even small changes in sight and hearing may cause you to fall. Take time to get used to new eyeglasses and always wear them when you need them. If you have a hearing aid, be sure it fits well, and wear it.
- Find out about the side effects of the medicines you take. If a drug makes you sleepy or dizzy, tell your doctor or pharmacist.
- Get enough sleep. If you are sleepy, you are more likely to fall.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink. Even small amounts can throw you off balance and slow your reflexes.
- Stand up slowly. Blood pressure can drop if you get up too quickly, and you'll feel wobbly or even black out.
- Use a cane or walker if your doctor says so. Make sure it's the right size and the wheels roll smoothly. This is very helpful when walking in areas you don't know or on uneven walkways.
- Be very careful on wet, slippery, or icy surfaces. Spread sand, salt, or kitty litter on icy sidewalks, on front and back steps and before doorways.
- Wear non-skid, low-heeled or lace-up shoes that fully support your feet. The soles should not be too thin or too thick. Don't walk around in socks or smooth-soled shoes and slippers.
Always tell your doctor if you have fallen since your last checkup—even if you aren't hurt.
Find Out More
Here are some helpful resources:
- MedlinePlus: Type "Falls" in the search box.
- Eldercare Locator
- National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1-800-232-4636 (toll-free) 1-888-232-6348 (TTY/toll-free)
- National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications University of Southern California Fall Prevention Center of Excellence
- Rebuilding Together
- Looking for more information about exercise?
Check out Go4Life®, at www.nia.nih.gov/Go4LIfe. This exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging has exercises, success stories, and free video and print materials.
Your Own Medical Alarm
Think about getting a home-monitoring system. Usually, you wear a button on a chain around your neck. If you fall or need emergency help, you push the button to alert the service. You can find local "medical alarm" services in your yellow pages. Since most medical insurance companies and Medicare do not cover home-monitoring systems, be sure to ask about costs.
Osteoporosis is a disease that makes bones weak and more likely to break. Many people think osteoporosis is only a problem for women, but it can also affect older men. For people with osteoporosis, even a minor fall may be dangerous. Talk to your doctor about whether you have osteoporosis.