Q: As my wife and I get older we are concerned about the risk of falling. Are there any steps we can take to minimize our chances of falling?
Answer: Your question is very timely as September is actually National Falls Prevention month. Falls can certainly be a concern for some adults as we age. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 4 Americans 65 years of age or older falls each year. Falls are one of the most common reasons for hospital admissions among older adults.
There are many reasons why falls are more prevalent among seniors. Generally, we all lose some coordination, flexibility and balance as we age, which can make us more susceptible to falling. Medical conditions, such as ear disorders can adversely affect balance, as well. In addition, osteoporosis which causes bone weakness can contribute to falling and more serious results like broken bones. Side effects from some medications may lead to falls, too, especially if they cause light-headedness or dizziness. Even poor fitting clothing or impractical shoes can increase the likelihood of a fall.
Fortunately, many falls are preventable. There are some key steps to take which can reduce your chances of falling. First, it’s a good idea to have a discussion with your health care provider to have a risk assessment, review current medications, and get some suggestions for the best way to prevent falls. For example, one possible recommendation might be to see a physical therapist who can help evaluate your balance, strength and suggest some strengthening exercises. Another suggestion may be the use of assistive devices like a cane or a walker. Vision is another important factor that contributes to falls; so it’s a good idea to schedule regular eye exams.
Also, you can take steps to increase the safety in your home to reduce the risk of falling. Safety measures may include increasing the lighting where needed, checking that you have secure rails on any staircases, and installing grab bars in your bathrooms by the showers and toilets.
If you happen to fall, it is recommended to have an action plan for those first 2-3 seconds in which you find yourself falling to reduce injury. Harvard Medical School has compounded a list of suggestions:
- Leaning forward will give you more control where you land.
- If at all possible fall sideways.
- Aim toward something soft, like grass over concrete.
- Twist your shoulders to protect your head.
- Keep your knees bent and feet down.
- Try to relax everything and land on soft places on your body like your butt or thighs.
- Roll to your side like a ball.
If you do fall and feel you are well enough to get up it’s important to be very careful to avoid further injury. Look around for a sturdy piece of furniture or the bottom of a staircase for support and don’t try to stand up on your own. Roll over onto your side and push your upper body up. Be sure to pause for a few moments to steady yourself, then slowly get up on your hands and knees and crawl to a sturdy chair if one is close by. Place your hands on the seat of the chair and slide one foot forward so that it’s flat on the floor. Get on one knee and slowly rise and turn your body to sit in the chair. Then sit for a few minutes to rest. Be sure to notify your health care provider after a fall to see if you need to be examined.
The week of Sept. 21-25 the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC) in partnership with AARP and Winston Salem State University will be hosting virtual events related to falls on their PTRC Area Agency on Aging Facebook page at https://bit.ly/3hjGbzj. Some topics include exercises for better balancing, home modifications, and medication and fall risk.
On Sept. 25, WSSU will be holding virtual balance assessments for people interested in receiving one. Please note registration is required for assessments. Visit Piedmont Regional Council on Facebook for times. Contact Evelyn Smith at email@example.com or call 336-904-0300 for more information.
Q: Once the weather turns cooler I am hoping to walk more. How can I find nice paved paths or walkways to walk on around Winston-Salem?
Answer: There are several options for walking on paved walkways throughout the city. The Recreation and Parks Department operates and maintains 79 parks. To find out the amenities and features such as restrooms, lakes, tennis courts, and picnic shelters visit cityofws.org.
TrailLink by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy also has a list of specific trails best suited for biking, running, and walking. This site (trailink.com) not only shares reviews, but also lets you see where the trails are located, how far the trail is, and if it is paved.
Walking is great exercise for everyone, but especially seniors. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association linked walking with staying healthy and mobile as you age. It is never too late to find a good walking trail and start exercising.
AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.