Minimizing Your Risk of Falling

Many activities in your daily life require bending, reaching and turning, as well as shifting your weight as you stand up or sit down or simply walk about. Some activities may aggravate dizziness symptoms, while others may place too much demand on the brain to process information or on unstable joints and weak muscles to execute movements. By carefully examining the various tasks that most frequently cause you discomfort, dizziness or unsteadiness, you can begin to minimize your risk for falling.

Find out if you have a balance problem

i5The first step in reducing your risk for falling is to learn more about your balance. A basic explanation of balance control can be found under How You Control Your Balance. Balance problems, dizziness and falling are not a normal part of life at any age. If you think you have a balance problem, the best thing you can do to reduce your potential for falling is to get help. You should talk to your physician who may recommend a qualified clinician who will perform a personal lifestyle inventory and balance screening. There are qualified clinicians throughout the United States who are equipped to assess and treat balance disorders. Find a Specialist or take the Balance Self Test to help determine if you are at risk for falling.

Safety is rule number one

The next step in reducing your potential for falling is to review your daily activities and your environment. You certainly don’t want to restrict your activities, but you should be aware of activities that may put you at risk, such as rising quickly from a lying or seated position to standing or bending down too fast. You should think twice about such risky behavior as standing on a poorly stabilized chair to change an out of reach light bulb, but you should not limit your participation in health activities or regular exercise. Ironically, inactivity itself can increase your risk for falling. Prolonged inactivity can result in loss of muscle strength and flexibility, as well as decrease your ability to react to sudden changes in your environment, such as a slippery floor or uneven surface. By remaining active in your daily life, you maintain your strength, flexibility and coordination, as well as your ability to keep your balance in a variety of conditions. If you notice that you are unable to confidently perform certain daily tasks, you should speak to your doctor.

Take charge of your physical condition

i6Yes our bodies change as we age, but you shouldn’t accept physical limitations as an inevitable consequence of aging. Take charge of your physical condition by exercising regularly (always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program) and getting regular physicals. Poor vision is a known risk factor for falling, so get regular exams to keep your eyeglass prescriptions updated with regular eye exams. Monitor any side effects your medications may have; some are known to cause dizziness or even fatigue, both of which can increase your risk for falling. Ask your doctor about your medications, both prescription and over the counter, and get his or her advice on how to reduce your risk for falling.

Reduce environmental risks

Take inventory of your home and surroundings. The majority of falls occur in the home and many can be prevented by taking a few important steps. Make sure you have adequate lighting in all rooms, hallways and stairways so you are able to see obstacles clearly. Install light switches at both ends of halls and at the top and bottom of staircases. Use night lights in bedrooms and bathrooms. You could even install lights at floor level to help guide your way through dark hallways or on stairs at night. Eliminate obstacles, such as scatter rugs, clutter, and phone and electrical cords. Install handrails on stairs and grab bars near toilets and bathtubs. Install nonskid strips in bathtubs and showers and use only nonskid bathmats. Keep items you use often in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool. Arrange a home safety assessment (your doctor can order for you). It is usually available from an occupational or physical therapist or visiting nurse.

Don’t wait to take action

If you suspect you may have a balance problem, the best time to act is now. Many people, regardless of age, don’t acknowledge a balance problem until after they have suffered a fall. So don’t wait to find out the hard way. Be proactive and take charge of your physical condition and your surroundings. Make your home as safe as possible. Be honest with yourself and acknowledge any troubling signs. Talk to your doctor and find out how you can improve your strength and mobility. Ask your doctor for a balance screening if you think you might have a problem.

Falling is not a fact of life as we age, but only you can take the first steps to prevention.