September 22, the first day of fall, kicks off National Fall Prevention Awareness Week.
Falls are a serious topic for older adults—they’re a primary cause of injury, hospital admission, and death among adults age 65+. Given this knowledge, it’s no surprise that you might fear falling so much that you restrict your own life. You might leave the house less or limit your physical activity. Unfortunately, these actions can lead to isolation and depression, and limiting physical activity can actually increase fall risk.
So, what can you do to reduce your risk of a serious fall? Start with these five steps.
1. Exercise. Regular exercise keeps you flexible, improves your balance and stamina, and increases your muscle strength. Here are some simple exercises you can do anywhere that can help prevent falls. If you prefer group exercise, Iona offers a number of fitness classes and groups with trained professionals with experience teaching older adults, including yoga, tai chi, core/cardio, and more.
2. Talk to your doctor. Some chronic health conditions (such as osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, hearing loss, and vision loss) and medications can increase the risk of falling or getting injured in a fall. Your doctor can help evaluate your risk, review and adjust your medications, and recommend screenings or trainings for you. If you’re not sure how to broach the subject, the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence has some free tips.
3. Make your house safer. It can be difficult to predict conditions outside, but having a safe home base can make you feel more secure. Move or discard anything you could trip over, add grab bars or railings in your bathroom and stairs, add light fixtures to increase visibility, and more. The DC Office on Aging’s Safe at Home Program might help you afford in-home safety measures, if needed.
4. Stay aware of your surroundings. It’s hard to control or predict your environment outside the house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make some small changes to reduce fall risk:
a. Pay close attention when outside, particularly to where you step—avoid places you might trip or slip, such as broken sidewalk, tree roots, wet leaves, and ice.
b. Try to go outside during daylight or to well-lit places, and get your vision checked regularly, including updating your glasses prescription if necessary.
c. Choose shoes with low heels and good traction.
5. Prepare for the possibility of falling. Knowing what to expect can make it less scary if a fall does happen. If you think you might be alone when a fall happens, purchase a personal emergency response system (PERS) or other medical alert device. AARP has a guide on choosing a system here.
Review techniques for getting up after a fall, such as this sheet from the Wisconsin Institute of Aging. To prepare for the possibility of injury or admission to a hospital after a fall, get familiar with the hospitals in your area, update your documents with any current medications and allergy information, and identify some emergency contacts, including a health care advocate or medical note-taker who could accompany you to the hospital.
These are important steps to take in general to age well, but they can especially reduce stress and confusion in the event of a serious fall.
Free Fall Risk Screenings in DC
On Friday, September 21, the National Council on Aging is hosting its annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day, with free falls risk talks and screenings for all DC older adults. Stop by Iona’s lobby for a flyer, or call your Ward’s DC Office on Aging wellness center site for information and to pre-register:
Bernice Fonteneau Senior Wellness Center
3531 Georgia Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20011
St. Mary’s Court
725 24th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037
Satterlee Hall, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
3001 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
Hattie Holmes Senior Wellness Center
324 Kennedy Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
Model Cities Senior Wellness Center
1901 Evarts Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017
Hayes Senior Wellness Center
500 K Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Washington Seniors Wellness Center
3001 Alabama Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20020
Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center
3500 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20032