Don't Fall for This

puppy lying downTake a look around your house. Do you have rugs that sometimes flip up? Are there hallways that are not well-lit? Do you have a dog or cat who sometimes sleeps at your feet or walks into your path?

These items, situations and furry friends can all increase your risk of falling. This is a concern because as you age it’s likely that your balance, muscle control and sense of where your body is in relation to doorways and steps decreases – darn it! At the same time, it is likely that your bone density is diminishing – again, darn it! The combination of these factors makes falling, even on a carpeted floor, a danger that should and can be avoided.

“The changes in balance, awareness of where our bodies are in space and even our ability to retain muscle tone all start decreasing ever so slightly as we age,” said Henry Ford Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Chief Medical Officer Bruce Muma. “But there are many things you can do to avoid falls and they center on prevention. This means making sure your home is as fall-proof as possible. It also means taking your body’s changes seriously and adding exercise to improve your strength, balance and bone density.”

Step 1: Fall-proof your home

  • Get rid of tripping hazards. This includes rugs that flip up or even cement steps that wobble.
  • An added boost. This can mean bars or safety rails where you need them such as up the front steps, near the bathtub or in the shower.
  • Light it up. Add extra lighting in darker areas of your house. You may want timers on lamps set to go off at dusk and turn off after the sun rises. Invest in nightlights for every room and hallway. Keep a small flashlight on your nightstand in case you need to light the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Add a little jingle. If you have a dog, cat, ferret or any other animal who has free reign in the house, attach a jingle bell to their collar to give you an idea where they are at all times. But always look down before taking a step to make sure they aren’t laying in front of or behind you.

Step 2: Time to exercise

  • It’s all about the core. While we walk with our legs, we get much of our strength for walking and movement in general from our core. This is the area of your body from your chest area through your hips. A strong core give you more control over your movement. Yoga and Pilates are great for building up core strength. An example of a Pilates exercise is called the plank. It’s basically the starting position of a pushup (either from the toes or knees). By holding this position you reach nearly every part of your core.
  • Overall strength training. Focus on building up your muscles. Whether it is through using free weights, or doing sit-ups, pushups, squats and lunges, your body will thank you. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
  • Don’t be tipsy. Have you noticed that sometimes you begin to tip over, even when simply standing? It’s time to work on your balance. This starts with strengthening the muscles in your toes and feet. Press your toes into the floor. Feel how they can help your balance? Improve your overall balance by standing behind a high-back chair and raise one foot off the ground, using the chair back as assistance. Then alternate legs. Never do this without having something nearby to grab onto! Exercise practices such as tai chi can also help with balance and strengthening.

Step 3: The extras

  • The eyes have it. When is the last time you had your eyes checked? Most adults’ vision gets a bit worse every year. Make sure you are up to date with your eyeglass or contacts prescription so that you can see as clearly as possible. But be extra careful if you are adjusting to a prescription change (especially progressive lenses).
  • Hear ye, hear ye. If your hearing is not up to snuff, your balance can be impacted. If you notice your balance is getting worse – and you haven’t had your hearing checked in over a year – schedule an appointment with an audiologist.
  • No narcotics or sedatives. These types of drugs have been shown to increase fall risk, particularly in older adults. In fact, according to the national best practices program called Choosing Wisely®, physicians should not prescribe these medications to anyone over the age of 65.
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