Take simple steps to minimize your chances of falling

Are you at risk for falling? Prevent falls by knowing potential safety concerns and working with your healthcare provider. Family, caregivers, and friends can help older adults stay safe in their homes.

A person's legs with grey sneakers.
Photo: Unsplash/Sylvia Prats.

As we age, falling may seem unavoidable, but there are ways to beat the odds of falling. According to the National Council on Aging, one in four adults ages 65 and older fall each year. While falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people over age 65, falls are preventable. Older adults who take actions to avoid falls can greatly reduce their risk for hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries, as well as increase their chances of maintaining their health and independence.

Common factors that can lead to falling include:

  • Balance and walking/gait issues. As we age, we may start to lose some coordination, flexibility and balance (primarily through inactivity), making it easier to fall.
  • Eyesight issues. As the eye ages, less light reaches the retina, making contrasting edges, tripping hazards and obstacles harder to see.
  • Medications. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause side effects such as dizziness and dehydration, or interactions with other medications that can contribute to a fall.
  • Environment. Homes and neighborhoods may have fall hazards, such as loose or cracked steps, poor lighting and other conditions that may make safe mobility more challenging. Older adults can make simple home modifications to keep their living spaces safe.
  • Chronic conditions. More than 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, stroke, obesity or arthritis. These conditions may increase one’s fall risk due to a loss of function, inactivity, depression, pain or needing to take multiple medications.

You can minimize the chances of falling, or help a loved one, by taking simple steps: 

  • Talk with your health care provider to determine your risk for falls and to learn about community resources. Prepare a list of questions for your healthcare provider and talk candidly together about your risks and concerns. Prior to the conversation, you can also take the National Council on Aging’s brief falls free check-up to have an idea of what your provider may ask you about.
  • Review your medications regularly with your healthcare provider to see if medications or any interaction between medications could affect your balance. Find an easy and accurate way to track your medicine so you remember to take the prescribed doses at the appropriate times.
  • Work on your strength and balance. Adding simple exercises such as tai chi, walking or chair exercises can improve your mobility and increase your strength. The CDC recommends older adults stay as active as able. Ideally, older adults should aim towards 150 minutes of physical activity per week and incorporate two days of muscle-strengthening activities. If you are currently inactive, have difficulty rising from a chair, or feel physically weak, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a physical therapist. A physical therapist can help you create an exercise program to increase your balance, strength and gait. Ask if using mobility aids such as a cane or walker can help you with safety. Any movement is better than no movement at all!
  • Schedule regular eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Changes with your sight can put you at greater risk of a fall.
  • Improve the safety of your home. There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home more fall-proof, such as switching out lightbulbs for better lighting, securing cords and installing a grab bar or a shower seat in a bathtub or shower. Pets and rugs are common culprits for tripping people in their own living spaces. Take extra care to remove slippery throw rugs on floor areas and train pets to stay down and away from feet to prevent falls. Use a checklist to look at different areas of your living space.

Michigan State University Extension, often in partnership with many local senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging across the state, offers community-based fall prevention programs. A Matter of Balance helps older adults learn how to reduce their risk and fears of falling and incorporate a variety of fall prevention strategies into daily living. Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention supports older adults with a safe and fun physical activity environment to learn gentle tai chi movements. Ongoing research has found tai chi practice can help people with a variety of chronic conditions.

If you also live with chronic health conditions such as chronic pain or diabetes, MSU Extension is here to support you with Personal Action Towards Health (PATH) self-management workshops.

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