Easy tweaks can help prevent falls

Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. One in three older Americans falls every year, and these falls can lead to many injuries — many of them serious.

If possible, consider making some changes in your life or the lives of the ones you love that could help avoid a fall.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Physical activity can go a long way toward preventing falls. As we age, most of us lose some of our coordination, strength, flexibility and balance. This loss can be slowed and reduced by finding activities that stimulate our muscles and joints.

For many, this can be a simple walking plan. Find a place where you can slowly increase the time and distance you walk each day. Rock Chalk Park and Sports Pavilion Lawrence have great options for both indoor and outdoor walking with their indoor track and paved trail system. The Lawrence Loop also is another great possibility. For a map of the Loop, visit lawrenceks.org/loop.

If you are walking 20 minutes a day, try to slowly increase that time to 30 or 40 minutes a day. If you are walking 1 mile a day, see if you can increase that distance.

You also might consider joining a group exercise class. Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the city of Lawrence offer many exercise classes that are designed with older adults in mind, including aquatics, tai chi, fitness, dance, yoga, cycling, Pilates and Zumba. Try to find a class that is right for you and keeps you coming back for more. Maintaining your strength, flexibility and balance will help improve your mobility and decrease your risk of falls.

Prevent falls

• At Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where the safety of our patients comes first, a new initiative is underway to prevent falls. Patients who are at risk for falls wear yellow, nonskid socks, which serves as an immediate visual cue that person needs help getting out of bed, walking down the hall and even on the way to the restroom. We are asking family members and other guests to alert a member of our health care team to assist patients wearing yellow socks.

• Members of the LMH Community Education staff would be happy to talk with your group about how to prevent falls. If you are interested in scheduling a free presentation, get in touch with Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, aynsley.anderson@lmh.org or 785-505-3066.

Because many falls occur at home, take some simple steps to reduce the number of hazards in your home:

• Reduce clutter. Remove boxes, newspapers, extension cords, phone cords and throw rugs from your walkways.

• More lighting in your home also can help prevent falls because it allows you to avoid objects that might be hard to see. Use night lights in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways. Have a lamp by your bed that you easily can reach. Make sure you have adequate lighting at stairways and consider adding handrails.

• Simple bathroom modifications can also be helpful. Install grab bars or nonslip surfacing for your shower or tub, or add a shower chair to allow you to sit while showering.

• Don’t forget to look at the outside of your home for hazards.

Consider changing the type of shoes you wear. Do you have a pair of shoes, slippers or sandals that consistently make it harder for you to walk? Get rid of them. Instead, wear a pair of properly fitting shoes that are sturdy and have nonskid soles. Wearing a pair of sensible shoes can reduce your risk of falling.

Managing your medications also is an important component to avoiding falls. Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with other medications that can lead to a fall. Medications that may increase the risk of fall include blood pressure medications, heart medications, diuretics, muscle relaxants and sleeping pills. Consult your physician before you stop or start any medications.

Don’t forget to get regular vision and hearing checks. Poor vision can increase your chance of falling.

Falling can be a life-changing experience. The greatest predictor of a future fall is a previous fall. One of the hardest things to overcome after a fall is the fear of falling. Oftentimes this fear can be crippling and lead you to further reduce your activity level, but the less you move, the more your risk for falls increases. So if possible, continue moving.

— Corey Koester is a physical therapist at the Center for Rehabilitation at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.