Protecting Your Independence

October 07, 2014

How many “trips or falls” have you had over the years?  For younger people, most falls result in little more than a few moments of embarrassment.  But for older persons, falls can be much more serious and can lead to a drastic change in lifestyle.  It can cause you to forfeit your independence. Some elderly persons never quite recover from a fall.

Statistically, it is rather common for persons over 65 to fall at least once a year.  Three quarters of all falls occur in and around the home.  Yet most of these falls are preventable!  Before you do something that will cause you to say: “I shouldn’t have done that!” read on.

            There are several actions that can be taken to minimize the risk of falling:

  • Study shoes! Soles that grip and shoes that provide adequate support are very important.  Many falls occur simply because the sole slides, or the shoe doesn’t provide enough support to keep the gait steady. Other falls are caused by the shoe falling off the foot. Research has shown that going barefoot (or stocking feet) around the house is also associated with a higher rate of falls in the elderly.  
  • Simple exercises can greatly improve balance, gait, range of motion, and strength, which can help in preventing falls.  These exercises can be done standing at the sink and sitting in a chair. 
  • Learning how to change positions (like from sitting to standing) can prevent dizziness (which is a common reason for falling.)  Quick changes in position can cause a drop in blood pressure (called orthostatic hypertension.) This is what causes the dizziness. 
  • Household assessment!  Believe it or not, many falls result from easily remedied situations in and around the home.  Some carpet tape to secure a corner or mat can prevent a fractured hip.  Common household contributors to falls include: scatter rugs, unsecured carpet edges, electrical cords, leaving belongings on floor or stairs, slipping on spilled liquids, and reaching for items stored in difficult places to reach.  Poor lighting in hallways or stairwells can also contribute to falls. 
  • Your personal health status can be a factor in falls.  Have your vision checked.  If you are supposed to wear glasses, do so.  If your gait is unsteady, use a walker or a cane.  Review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist to see if any of them could cause dizziness.

Falls in the winter are a common occurrence.  Consumer Reports on Health (Jan. 2005) recommends: Face the railing on icy stairs, grasp with both hands and go up and down sideways, with one foot then the other; Shuffle on icy grounds, taking one tiny step at a time; If the ice you need to cross seems really bad, sit down and scoot across, using your hands to push you along.  

For a brochure and safety checklist on preventing falls, District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528 or request on line, dculligan@qvhd.org