We’ve all witnessed when a new-walking toddler loses his balance, goes falling down to the floor, then looks up at his mommy on the verge of tears. Her exaggerated laughing and clapping can usually turn little Junior’s frown upside-down. He giggles, pops right back up, and goes on his way. Wouldn’t it be nice if this simple method worked across the age spectrum? Unfortunately, older adults cannot be so easily tricked, and the physical and psychological effects of a fall can actually be catastrophic. A more practical method for addressing falls for the older adult population is prevention.

What exactly can an older adult do to decrease the risk for falling? Stay active! Participating in physical activity helps to maintain strength, endurance, balance, and coordination. They should continue engaging in activities that they’ve always enjoyed (daily walks, dancing, or water aerobics, for example), and even think about trying something new, like yoga or tai chi. Even “chores,” like cleaning, grocery shopping, doing dishes, and gardening, are excellent forms of physical activity. For those with more involved physical impairments, getting out of bed or getting dressed is considered physical activity.

All older adults engage in physical activity, but sometimes these activities can become a safety risk. An individual can be at risk to fall out of bed, trip over a rug, fall down the stairs, and slip on the bathroom floor. Here are simple ways to modify an individual’s home environment in order to maximize safety and independence:

Carex White Bathtub Safety Rail
  • Make sure lighting is adequate and light switches can be easily reached.
  • Remove any obstacles that can be tripped on the floor, including rugs, magazines, shoes, etc.
  • Keep frequently used items on counters or within easy reach in drawers and cabinets; avoid step stools if possible and never stand on a chair to reach objects.
  • Install grab bar(s) in and out of the shower, and possibly near the toilet. Ideally, sturdy railings should be installed on both sides of staircases.

Even with safety modifications in place, no home is “fall-proof.” One must also be cautious when out in the community:

  • Wear sturdy and non-skid shoes in the home and in the community, not slippers (see the word “slip” in there?), not barefoot, not socks.
  • When sitting down in a chair or on a toilet, reach back to feel the surface before sitting down; also, sit down slowly and never “plop.”
  • Scan the floor for potential safety hazards to avoid tripping or slipping, including any obstacles or a wet floor.
  • Upon any signs of dizziness, find a place to sit down. Most importantly, breathe! In through the nose, out through the mouth or nose; breath-holding can contribute to feelings of unnecessary lightheadedness, anxiety, and tension.

If you or your loved one has fallen before, or has extreme fear of falling, please bring this issue up with your physician. Referral to physical or occupational therapy may be warranted; a therapist can come to you in your home, or you can make outpatient appointments for therapy.

I hope these tips will help you or your loved one to stay safe and on your feet for years to come!