(BPT) - Falling doesn't have to be a normal part of aging. This is good news, given the consequences of a fall. Just ask Mike Berning, an older adult who suffered a severe fall after trying to change a lightbulb in his home. His injury resulted in extended, expensive and difficult physical therapy, and it took him nearly six months to walk again without a limp. Not only was Berning’s fall hard on him, it was hard on his wife, as she was his primary caregiver.
Falls remain the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older adults and can significantly impact quality of life. When adults over 60 fall, it can lead to fears about leaving home, social isolation, depression, and costly medical treatment. While Berning has since recovered, he wants everyone to know how dangerous a fall can be.
“A fall can take a lot out of you emotionally, physically and financially,” Berning said. “Don’t make the mistake I made. Seek help when you need it. And if you know someone who is at risk, don’t ignore the warning signs.”
If you or someone you know is worried about falling, take the Falls Free CheckUp from the National Council on Aging (NCOA). It can help determine your risk level for falling. After answering 12 simple questions, you will receive a personalized risk score and some practical prevention tips.
While many of the questions deal with more visible signs, others may catch you by surprise. Here are a few lesser-known red flags that you may be at risk for falling:
1. You take certain medications
Antidepressants, opioids, medicines for epilepsy, sleep medications and even high blood pressure medications can cause daytime sleepiness, dizziness, reduced alertness and delayed reaction times. For some older adults, these effects could cause them to fall, especially if they’re on too high a dose, are taking 3 or more medications and have multiple ongoing diseases. Your primary care doctor or pharmacist can provide guidance on appropriate medication and give recommendations based on your situation.
2. You’re worried about falling
For some older adults, a fear of falling can end up hurting them more than helping them. Worries may cause them to scale back on physical activities they enjoy, which can weaken their muscles and reduce balance, flexibility and endurance.
To get out of the fear mindset, Beverly Cannizaro, an exercise instructor in Arlington, VA, recommends doing exercises that promote balance. “I’ve had two family members endure falls,” Cannizaro said. “It wasn’t a pleasant experience for either of them, and I don’t want others to suffer the same way they did. Anything from sit-to-stand exercises, tai chi and heel-to-toe walking can help keep their balance and strength intact.”
3. You rush to the toilet
If you frequent the bathroom at all hours, your chances of falling can be quite high, especially if you're already unsteady on your feet. Home hazards such as clutter or other objects on the floor or dark hallways can also make walking to the bathroom unsafe. Make sure there is a clear path from the bed to the bathroom. Use a nightlight or sensor lights. Also make sure there aren’t any objects or furniture you could trip over. If you have to use the stairs, look into accommodations like stair lifts and always hold onto handrails.
Knowing what to do is half the battle
If you scored four points or higher on NCOA’s Falls Free CheckUp, you may be considered at high risk for falling. If that's the case, educate yourself on the steps you can take to keep yourself and/or your older family members safe. September 20-24 is Falls Prevention Awareness Week, sponsored each year by NCOA. It’s a great opportunity to check your risk, so you can live your life worry- and falls-free.
For more information, check out www.ncoa.org/Falls.