Get out of a fall trap

Falls lead to major mishaps and physical disability in old age. Here are eight ways to minimise them

elderly woman watering plantsAs you age, your tendency to fall and break your bones increases. The odds of sustaining an injury are even higher after 65 years of age. This may be because of common, age-related physical changes and medical conditions, and the medications you take to treat such conditions.

Besides as you age, wounds take longer to heal. But don't let the fear of falling rule your life. Many falls and their injuries are preventable with just a little bit of care. Given below are eight steps on minimising your risk of falling.

STEP 1: Discuss with your doctor

Begin your fall-prevention plan by visiting your doctor. Together, you can take a comprehensive look at your environment, your health and medications to identify situations vulnerable to falling. In order to devise a fool-proof plan, your doctor will want to know:

  • Medicines that you have been taking and their dosages. The doctor will be able to review them for side-effects and interactions that may increase your risk of falling.
  • A record of your past falls—when, where and how did you fell in the past.
  • Reports of an eye and ear examination; any defect in these organs can make you prone to falling due to poor visibility and lack of balance.

STEP 2: Move for health

It's extremely crucial that you stay physically active—nothing that exerts you too much, but keeps you flexible nevertheless. So, depending on your level of physical fitness, take up activities such as swimming, yoga, T'ai chi or even walking.

These help improve your strength, balance, coordination and flexibility. Be sure to consult your doctor first, though.

STEP 3: Wear the right kind of footwear

  • Don't wear footwear that does not fit you well.
  • Avoid wearing high heels and floppy slippers—they can affect your walk, increasing your chances of slipping, stumbling and falling.
  • Avoid shoes with extra-thick soles—they'll make taking steps difficult as they require more strength in your legs, which you may not have.
  • Choose lace-up shoes instead of slip-ons, and keep the laces tied. This will eliminate the chances of you tripping because of your shoes. If you've trouble tying laces, select shoes that have fabric hook-and-loop fasteners [Ed: Velcro, is a brand name that invented these fasteners].

STEP 4: Remove home hazards

To most of us, our house is the safest haven. However, for seniors, little things around the house can make them prone to falls. To ensure safety:

  • Clear walkways of obstacles such as boxes, newspapers, electrical and phone cords.
  • Move away chunky furniture like coffee tables, racks and lamps from high-traffic areas in your house.
  • Don't let rugs remain loose, fasten them to the floor.
  • Keep common everyday household items within easy reach.
  • Clean spilled liquids, grease or food immediately off the floor. If there are kids at home, instruct them not to drop fruit peels or plastic covers that may pose a danger to all, specially the senior members.
  • Install non-skid floor tiles, especially in the bathroom.
  • Use non-slip mats in your bathroom.

STEP 5: Keep your home well-lit

As we get older, our vision gets poorer. Hence, it is important to keep your home well-lit to avoid tripping.

  • Install lights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways and keep them on at night.
  • Install switches within easy reach.
  • Store flashlights/torch in easy-to-find places in case of power failure.

STEP 6: Take help

Old people most commonly use a cane or walker for support. There are newer methods that are of great help too. Here's how you can use them.

  • Grab bars mounted inside and outside your shower or bathtub.
  • Install raised toilet seats with armrests to help stabilise yourself.
  • Place sturdy plastic seats in your shower or tub to sit down if you need to. Buy a hand-held shower nozzle so you can use it even when sitting down.
  • Use the handrails provided on stairways when you climb.
  • Use cordless phones/mobiles to prevent any mishap in your rush to take the phone.

STEP 7: Be careful in public places

Be extra careful when you go out, since you're helpless to keep public spaces free of obstacles.

  • Check out the floor level or steps before stepping when you enter an unfamiliar building.
  • Carry shoulder bags to keep your hands free to help you balance.

STEP 8: Most important – improve your diet

Women are more prone to osteoporosis after menopause. But above 65, the risk is equally bad for both men and women. So maintaining a healthy diet is imperative.

  • Include calcium-rich foods like milk, milk products and green leafy vegetables [or fish if you are a non-vegetarian]. If need be, opt for calcium and vitamin D supplements under your doctor's supervision. This is because as we age, we tend to lose calcium, which as you may know is vital for bone strength.
  • Reduce your consumption of salt, pickles, and papad in advancing age, as excess sodium [salt] reduces your bone density.
  • Reduce your intake of sugar, soft drinks, and coffee to minimise loss of calcium.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking to maintain your health and energy levels.

The moral of the story here is that it's your life, after all. If you want it to be hassle-free, take care of the minor details to avoid a major mishap.

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