FallsLab at Toronto Rehab’s KITE Research Institute. (Photo: KITE Research Institute)
Falls can be life-altering events with devastating consequences. About one in three Canadians aged 65 or older will fall at least once in their lifetime. These events are the leading cause of injury among Canadian seniors and cause almost all hip breaks. Following a fall, seniors will spend about 22 days in hospital recovering. One-third of seniors hospitalized for fall-related injuries are placed in long-term care.
Aside from the physical impact, falls can affect the mental health of seniors. Following a fall, individuals may be less confident in their movement, fearful of falling again and less willing to participate in activities they once enjoyed. As a result, they may become isolated and confined. Preventing falls is an essential step in maintaining mental and physical wellness into old age.
What you can do
1. Understand your risk of falling
Many different factors put individuals at a higher risk of falling. Some of these include:
- Vision problems: difficulty seeing tripping hazards
- Hearing impairments: disruption of the balance mechanism in the ears or challenges concentrating on conversations and maintaining balance
- Alcohol or recreational drug use: impaired cognition and motor skills
- Prescription medications: fall-promoting side effects such as dizziness
- Weak muscles, stiff joints or dizziness: unsteadiness and difficulty maintaining and regaining balance
Reviewing these risk factors with your physician can give you a better idea of your falling risk. Accurately estimating your risk of falling will help you stay active and physically conditioned longer while avoiding unnecessary risks. With assistance from your physician, you can develop a plan to mitigate the fall risks in your life and prevent potential injuries.
Regular exercise can help maintain muscle strength and improve balance to prevent falls. Going for a daily walk can be a great way to achieve this goal. Esteemed organizations also offer exercise programs targeted at preventing falls, including Toronto Rehab. The simple exercises in these programs often use chairs or counters to ensure stability and comfort when executing them.
3. Keep paths clear and mark hazards
There can be many different tripping hazards in the home. Extension cords and other loose items can block paths and increase the risk of falling. Remove these items where possible, otherwise mark them very clearly. Similarly, rugs and doorway transitions can increase the risk of tripping. Securing these items, removing them where possible or increasing their visibility can help mitigate this risk. Increasing lighting can also reduce the risk of tripping at home.
4. Equip yourself and your home
Wear non-slip shoes around the home, especially on surfaces such as wood or tile, to ensure stability and prevent slipping. Installing sturdy railings in bathrooms, hallways and stairwells can also improve balance when transitioning in different areas of the house. A less permanent solution is to keep a cane or walker nearby to provide additional support when you need it.
5. Look for environmental hazards
There can be many unexpected hazards outside the home that are out of your control. For example, icy sidewalks or uncleared snow can increase the risk of falling. Wearing shoes with good treads can also help in this situation. Other tripping hazards such as hoses or sprinkler heads can also be present. Look for these hazards when you leave the house and avoid them where possible. You should also keep an eye out for supports such as railings that can help you navigate outdoor spaces better.
6. Have a plan
Most importantly, make sure you have a plan in case you fall. Keeping a charged cell phone in your pocket can be a great way to make sure you can call for help, even if you can’t reach the landline. Plan to have members of your support network check in regularly to make sure you’re okay.