Speaking of Falls Again
I stumbled and fell in my living room last week, and my husband, who was in the bedroom, couldn’t hear me calling for help. I was finally able to get back on my feet by myself, but I cracked some ribs and pulled a muscle in my shoulder (apparently trying to catch my fall). I didn’t seem to trip over anything – I was just walking across the living room carpet – and the doctor can’t find anything wrong that would cause me to fall, so I guess I must have just tripped over my own two feet. Fortunately I didn’t hit my head or injure myself seriously, but can you suggest anything I can do to prevent this from happening again? I’m 78, and I’m afraid that I might not be so lucky if I fall again.
TIPSY IN TOLEDO
Pick up your feet, girl. Seriously, it is not uncommon for older adults to trip over their own feet because, rather than pick up their feet when walking, they often drag their feet and “schuffle” making it easy to catch their feet on carpet or other rough surfaces. Don’t be lazy. Pay attention to what you are doing when you walk, and lift your feet before taking each step.
You were, indeed, fortunate not to be more seriously injured because, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, more than one third of adults over 65 fall each year, and more than 60% of people who die from falls are over 75. In fact, among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths, and those 75 and older who fall are four to five more times likely to be admitted to a long term care facility for one year or more.
I have talked about falls in this column before, but it’s worth talking about again. What can you do to reduce your chances of falling? There are several things that you can do to make your home “fall-safe,” but physically you should first have your vision checked to see if there are any correctible vision problems that increase the risk of falling. Check, too, to see that you don’t have an inner ear problem that might upset your equilibrium. Certain medications can also have side effects that can create unexpected dizziness and loss of balance. Your doctor should be able to review all of these issues with you.
Older adults are often afraid of physical activity because of the fear of falling, but exercise is still one of the most important things you can do to to prevent falling – especially exercises that will strengthen your lower extremities and improve your balance and coordination. Start walking for at least 30 minutes, at least 2-3 times a week, and check with your physician about starting a strength training program stressing exercises for your hips and upper thighs to improve your stability. Tai chi and yoga are also excellent for balance – and fun too!
So, start walking today, and tell your husband to turn up his hearing aid!
Jim Evans is a 38-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and a nationally recognized consultant on fitness for seniors. He is host of the popular radio talk show “Forever Young” on San Diego’s KCBQ 1170 AM (KCBQ.com) and chairman of the advisory council for the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of San Diego.
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