Afraid to Fall?
“The best way to prevent a fall is to sit down as much as possible.” – Wrong!!
When people are afraid of falling, the natural tendency is to try walking less. The assumption is that “if I am not moving, I will be safe.” The reality, however is that if you are spending the majority of the day sitting still, you are contributing to one of the very things that dramatically increases the likelihood of falls – namely, weak muscles.
It is obviously true that during the moments when you are sitting still you will not fall, but the steadily weaker your muscles become from inactivity, the greater the chance that you will fall when you are doing basic, usual, everyday tasks like walking to the bathroom or standing to prepare a meal.
The best way to prevent falls is not to become sedentary and avoid doing all activities involving mobility, but to stay as active as possible and simply stop doing the tasks that we all know have a very high likelihood of resulting in falls – and that we still do anyway. These tasks include standing on step stools; walking down stairs with your hands full; sitting down on office chairs with wheels, etc. According to “The State of Home Safety in America research report”, each year nearly 20,000 deaths and 21 million medical visits are due to preventable injuries in the home.
As a rehab therapist I have worked with thousands of people who have experienced fall-related injuries. It is much more rarely the case that people will have a fall simply because they ‘walked’ across a room. Most mechanical falls occur due to a person interacting with an environmental hazard in the home such as slippery floors, low seat heights, poor lighting, loose carpets, high thresholds, uneven surfaces and cluttered floors. So, one of the very best things you can do to prevent a future fall is not to stop walking, but instead to work on making your home safer.
The reality is your home right now probably has lots of booby traps, just lying in wait; ready to catch you when your attention is down. And chances are you are already fully aware of the home’s inherent fall hazards, but are trying to blissfully ignore your knowledge of their presence. However, the sooner you acknowledge the fall hazards and completely eliminate them, the better chance you have avoiding a fall-related injury. So…throw away your step stools, loose throw rugs and office chairs with wheels; tape down the edges of the larger carpets; use no-slip wax on the floors; install better lighting; install handrails beside all stairs; reduce the height of thresholds; don’t leave clutter on the floors or stairs; install grab bars in the shower area; apply no-slip strips to the bottom of the bathtub, and have all broken stairs and walkways repaired.
The key is to not just fix a “few” of the fall-risk issues in your home, but “all” of them, especially if you are over 65 years old and plan to live independently in your own home for a lifetime. As a rehab therapist who teaches safety skills, I have often heard the words “but I have done things this way for decades and never had a problem”, which translates to “I am not going to change the way I do things until I experience a problem.” And therein lies the real problem behind why so many people find their way unhappily into the hospital system. The key to remaining successful, healthy and independent is to stay one step ahead of the game – not one step behind.
Statistics show that one in three adults aged 65 and older falls each year; two-thirds of people over the age of 65 who fall will fall again within 6 months. Of those who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard to get around and live independently, or that may even result in the need to be placed in a nursing home. This is a slippery slope that you have increased power to avoid – by being smart and preventing the first fall. A safer home will allow you to stay more active and independent for years to come.
Eliminate the common fall risks in your home to ensure you can always live life to the fullest. Stay safe and keep moving!
For a list of safety and fall prevention tips click here.
If you’ve already experienced a fall, are experiencing new weakness, episodes of dizziness, or changes in your medical status we recommend you seek advice from your physician or therapist.