Fall prevention tips for aging adults and their families

Prevent elderly falls and injuries by taking fall precautions and having a safety plan

Each year, one in four Americans age 65 or older will fall, causing injuries that lead to emergency room visits, hospitalizations or death (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). That’s why one of the most important ways to age successfully is to stay active and have a fall prevention program in place.

Most common causes of falls in the elderly

These normal changes in aging can increase fall risk and injuries for older people:

  • Reduced balance
  • Slower reaction time
  • Less sensory feeling in the feet
  • Reduced physical activity causing weakness and less flexibility
  • Weaker bones that fracture easier
  • Medical conditions of the joints, heart and lungs that cause pain or decrease endurance
  • Use of prescription or over-the-counter medicines that may cause dizziness, low blood pressure and fatigue
  • Vision changes or eye conditions like cataracts and glaucoma
  • Less social activity and greater isolation that lead to a sedentary lifestyle

Through all these changes, keep in mind that falls are preventable. First, you and/or your caregiver can identify the fall risks around you. Then make your health and environment a priority by putting a falls intervention plan in place.

Talk to your doctor about how to prevent falls

The Medicare Annual Wellness Visit is a great time to talk with your doctor about fall prevention. Talk about your balance, strength and ability to move around your home or outdoors. Your doctor can assess your risk for falling and give you tips to prevent falls.

Discuss your prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs to make sure they’re appropriate and not causing side effects. Medicines can cause dizziness that makes it easier for you to fall.

Ask your doctor if you should have a diagnostic test of bone strength. The test will look at your bone mass. It helps identify if you have osteoporosis, a disease that makes your bones more fragile. If you have osteoporosis, your doctor can explain treatment options.

Good vision helps prevent falls. See your eye doctor to make sure your eyeglasses prescription is up-to-date.

Get regular exercise to build strength

Don’t let aging slow you down. Moving your muscles is important for fall prevention. Everybody needs activity for strength and mobility. Be sure to check with your doctor about how much exercise is safe for you each day.

Include these three types of exercise to keep your body in great shape, and learn more in the article “Adults at every age need exercise.

  • Aerobic exercise improves energy level and boosts your body in many ways. Try walking, biking, stationary bike riding or swimming. Do these activities for 20-30 minutes or more at least three to four times a week. Aerobic activities build muscles and improve blood flow, joint flexibility, balance and memory.
  • Strengthening exercises keep your muscles strong. You can build strength with small handheld weights or elastic bands at home or at a gym.
  • Balance training is a key way to reduce risk of falls. Try classes in Tai Chi or yoga. Or do a variety of standing and sitting exercises that improve stability.

Don’t forget to check your Medicare plan for fitness benefits. Some Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plans may include a gym membership or home fitness program.

Eat a healthy diet

A well-balanced diet is important for overall health and especially for bones. Bones get weaker with age, so adding calcium and vitamin D supplements every day is a good idea too. Eat protein for energy. Vegetables and fruits provide vitamins, minerals and fiber that make you stronger and prevent diseases. Don’t skip eating meals, because this can make you faint or dizzy.

Make your environment safe – inside and out

An important fall safety tip is to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes that fit well. Look for shoes with low heels and a nice tread on the soles and wear them whether you’re indoors or outdoors. This keeps you balanced and less likely to turn your foot if you step on something.

If your doctor or physical therapist suggests you use a cane or walker, give it a try. It can help you move around with better stability.

Here are some more safety tips for fall prevention at home:

  • Clear your hallways, stairways and living areas of clutter, cords and loose rugs.
  • Add lighting in all areas. Use a night light so you can see where you’re walking when it’s dark.
  • Add safety items to the bathroom – the most common area for falls. Install grab bars and a bench to help you enter or exit the tub or shower with better support. Use a raised height toilet. Add non-slip rugs or decals to surfaces that get wet.
  • Make sure your outdoor sidewalks don’t have uneven cracks. Keep your lawn cleared of rocks and sticks. Be cautious about stepping on or off curbs at the road.

Rely on support from family or other caregivers

If you live on your own, make sure you have family or a caregiver check in on you regularly. Ask them to help with your home assessment and install safety measures. Invite them to join you in exercising to stay active. If you’re having trouble eating properly, ask for help with grocery shopping or meal preparation to get the right nourishment.

What to do if you fall

If you have an injury from a fall, take it seriously and see your doctor. You’ll want your doctor to evaluate you completely for treatment needs and suggest ways to prevent any future falls. Medicare plans generally cover physical therapy to treat an illness or injury.

Other symptoms to look for after a fall include emotional problems, such as a fear of falling. You may start to question your independence or feel sadness about your quality of life. These are normal reactions. But taking fall precautions can help you to gain strength and confidence, prevent any more falls and keep you safe.