FALL PREVENTION —TALES & TIPS
I’ve had periodic falls with resulting sprains and broken bones ever since I was a kid. Mostly, these resulted from doing foolish things—like jumping off the roof of my garage when I was ten. But, now as I age, I seem to be taking more tumbles—at least once a year. I’ve fallen three different times during half-marathons, luckily I was able to finish each. I also fall now and again while doing everyday pastimes. Several years ago when I lived up at Lake Tahoe, I fell on an ice patch while fetching a newspaper in my front yard and broke my wrist. A few years later in Moab, Utah I broke my other wrist and fractured a couple of ribs when I fell while mountain biking. Still, I healed fairly quickly after each of these mishaps.
Now, I finally had a fall that that hasn’t healed swiftly. Back in March I tripped on a gopher hole while walking our dog Charlie and fell hard on my hip. For a couple of weeks I had to completely stop running and biking. (I was still able to swim a few laps.) I visited my doc who sent me to get X-rays—but no visible fractures were found. Yet, the pain kept bothering me and I next went to physical therapy once a week for a couple of months. I enjoyed getting the attention and learning some new stretches, but I still had that damn pain in my hip. And today, 8 months, later I have it still. I’ve long returned to jogging and biking and have run a half marathon and a triathlon so it’s not stopping me from what I love. I just need to take a large dose of ibuprofen each time before heading out.
Reiterating Fall Prevention
In January 2018 I wrote the post: Balance Training—Staying Steady on Your Feet, which suggests specific types of classes and exercises to prevent falls. Now, I think it’s time to return again to fall prevention, one of the most important things we seniors can do for ourselves.
Here are excerpts from the June, 2014 online Harvard Medical School article Simple exercises to prevent falls:
This year, one out of every three people ages 65 and older will experience a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What’s more, many of them will fracture a hip or sustain another potentially life-threatening injury.
Along with broken bones and other physical harms, falls can produce more subtle damage. “The less obvious harmful consequence of a fall is a fear of falling again,” says Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. This fear may limit your physical activities, and increase your risk of developing chronic diseases. It also can inhibit your social life, and possibly even lead to depression, she adds. Finally, limiting activities can lead to weaker muscles and poor balance—which only make future falls more likely.
Why does our fall risk rise as we age? Each of the systems that keep us upright and balanced—including the brain and central nervous system, vision, and muscles—loses a small amount of function with age. The sensory information entering our eyes and ears takes longer to travel to our brain for processing, making us more likely to become off-balance. “And when we trip, our reaction is slower at older ages, so we can’t ‘catch’ ourselves and prevent the fall,” Dr. Lee says. All these changes combine to increase our risk.
With age also come more ailments, with corresponding medicines to treat them. Many medications can cause stability-compromising side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion.
Fall prevention tips
Along with exercising, follow these tips to avoid a spill.
- Have your vision and eyeglass prescription checked regularly. Treat eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration before they can compromise your vision and lead to a fall. Also increase the lighting around your home to avoid tripping.
- Ask your doctor to go through all your medicines with you. Try to reduce dosages or get off medicines you no longer need—especially drugs that are known to cause balance side effects.
- Wear well-fitting shoes with low heels and sturdy soles.
- Stand up straight with your shoulders even, your spine neutral, and your abdominal muscles pulled in. Good posture centers your weight over your feet, keeping you balanced.
- Pay attention when you walk. Leave your cellphone in your purse or pocket, and hold off on conversations until you’re sitting.
- Stand up slowly from a seated or lying position. Rising too quickly can lead to a rapid dip in blood pressure that can sweep you off your feet.
- Get at least 800 IU of vitamin D daily from foods or a supplement
Exercise and balance
Exercise is a proven way to prevent falls, by strengthening the muscles that keep us upright and improving our balance. For the greatest benefit, do a combination of the following exercise types:
- gait and coordination training
- resistance/strength training.
Before starting any new fitness program, see your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you. This is especially true if you’ve been feeling dizzy or if you have a chronic health condition like heart disease, diabetes, or asthma.
Improve your balance
Try these balance and strengthening exercises to help prevent falls.
Heel raises: Stand up straight behind a chair, holding the back with both hands. Position your feet hip-width apart. Lift up on your toes. Hold. Lower your heels to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
Standing side leg lift: Stand up straight behind a chair, holding the back with both hands. Slowly lift your right leg straight out to the side about 6 inches off the floor. Hold. Return to starting position. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Standing hamstring curls: Stand up straight behind a chair, holding the back with both hands. Extend your right leg behind you with your toes touching the floor. Bend your right knee and try to bring the heel to your right buttock. Hold. Slowly lower your foot to the floor. Repeat 10 times on each leg.