Successful Aging: Factor in fall prevention outside one’s home
Q You’ve been excellent in teaching me how to avoid falls in my home. At 79, an even bigger problem is how I can avoid falling outside of my home? Note I walk my dog daily at the beach and want to stay on my feet. Many thanks.
A Dear L.S.:
Indeed, staying on your feet is important. Falls are frequent, dangerous and take a human and financial toll.
Here are some alarming statistics according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Osteoporosis Foundation:
• Each year one-third of Americans aged 65-plus fall.
• Every second of every day in the U.S. an older adult falls, which makes falls the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans.
• About 9,500 deaths of older Americans are associated with falls each year.
• More than half of all fatal falls involve people 75 or over. Among those age 65 to 69, one out of every 200 falls results in a hip fracture
• In 2014 older Americans experienced 29 million falls causing seven million injuries and costing an estimated $31 billion in annual Medicare costs.
Fall prevention is the challenge. The point is to diminish the accident opportunities. Here are some ways to avoid them particularly outside one’s residence.
Select the right shoes: High heels and shoes with thick soles may not provide the needed stability. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests footwear with thinner, non-skid soles. Lace-ups are considered better than slip-ons for a snugger secure fit. Also the “right shoes” can be stylish. My observation is that shoe manufacturers and stores have tuned in that many older adults want secure comfortable shoes that look good.
Take your time: Slow down. Falls are more prevalent when rushing. In trying to make a doctor’s appointment on time or mailing a package at the post office before it closes, consider adding another 15 minutes to your schedule. And take your time crossing the street. When unloading the car, consider making several trips. Carrying too much may cause a shift in balance.
Pay attention: We know that outdoor falls are triggered by uneven sidewalks, street surfaces and curbs. They occur in parking lots and often are caused by tripping over short curbs placed at the end of parking spaces. What to do? Keep looking ahead and prevent your mind from wondering. Avoid the temptation to talk on a cell phone or listen to music. And watch for steps, holes, uneven areas and obstacles in pathways.
Assess all surfaces: Floors that are waxed or made of highly polished marble can be extremely slippery. Before stepping on a new surface, take a moment to evaluate it. Test it by sliding one foot on the floor to determine if you will be stable on that surface. If a sidewalk looks slippery, walk on grass for more secure footing.
Make sure you can see: Wear the correct eye wear and/or sunglasses when walking. Bifocals can be a hazard. If they are for reading, looking through that lens to see where you are going may distort potential dangers.
Eliminate hazards around your home: Install handrails for outdoor steps. Paint edges of steps with a color that contrasts the rest of the stairway. Be aware that some older houses have stairs that have less surface space where you place your foot; it may feel a bit shorter. Repair protruding nails on steps and keep outdoor furniture out of walkways. Porches, decks, walkways and driveways should be free of leaves, trash and clutter. Also turn on the light outside your front door before you leave if you plan to return when it’s dark. And in poor weather, check pharmacies and grocery stores that will deliver to your home.
Keep fit: We know that a sedentary life style can accelerate the normal aging process. To slow that process and to deter falls, stay fit and move. Increase muscle strength through strength training that typically will improve balance and posture – both important in fall prevention.
L.S., thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. In many cases, preventing a fall could be a life saver. For more information see USC’s Davis School Fall Prevention Center of Excellence at stopfalls.org. And do enjoy a safe walk with your dog.
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