Preventing Falls at Home
Falls are not inevitable; it isn’t something that just happens as you get older. Falls are linked to a specific cause. It could be that more than one underlying cause or risk factor is involved in a fall.
Falls can be linked to a person’s physical condition or a medical problem, such as a chronic disease. Other causes could be safety hazards in the person’s home or community environment.
What are some Risk Factors for falls?
- Muscle weakness, especially in the legs, is one of the most important risk factors. People with weak muscles are more likely to fall than are those who maintain their muscle strength, as well as their flexibility and endurance.
- Your balance and your gait — how you walk — are other key factors. Older adults who have poor balance or difficulty walking are more likely than others to fall. These problems may be linked to a lack of exercise or to a neurological cause, arthritis, or other medical conditions and their treatments.
- Blood pressure that drops after you have been lying down or sitting can increase your chance of falling. This condition — called postural hypotension — might result from dehydration, or certain medications. It might also be linked to diabetes, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, or an infection.
- Your reflexes may also be slower than when you were younger. The increased amount of time it takes you to react may make it harder to catch your balance if you start to fall.
- Foot problems that cause painful feet, and wearing unsafe footwear can increase your chance of falling. Backless shoes and slippers, high-heeled shoes, and shoes with smooth leather soles are examples of unsafe footwear that could cause a fall.
- Sensory problems can cause falls, too. If your senses don’t work well, you might be less aware of your environment. For instance, having numbness in your feet may mean you don’t sense where you are stepping.
- Not seeing well or other vision problems can also result in falls. It may take a while for your eyes to adjust to see clearly when you move between darkness and light. Other vision problems contributing to falls include poor depth perception, cataracts, and glaucoma. Having poor lighting around your home can also lead to falls.
- Confusion, even for a short while, can sometimes lead to falls. For example, if you wake up in an unfamiliar environment, you might feel unsure of where you are. If you feel confused, wait for your mind to clear or until someone comes to help you before trying to get up and walk around.
- Some medications can increase a person’s risk of falling because they cause side effects like dizziness or confusion. The health problems for which the person takes the medications may also contribute to the risk of falls.
Most Falls Happen at Home
Although falls can happen anywhere, well over half of all falls happen at home. Falls at home often happen while a person is doing normal daily activities. Some of these falls are caused by factors in the person’s living environment. For instance, a slick floor or a poorly lit stairway may lead to a fall.
Other factors that can lead to falls at home include
- loose rugs
- clutter on the floor or stairs
- carrying heavy or bulky things up or down stairs
- not having stair railings
- not having grab bars in the bathroom
Simple changes can help make your home safer.
If you do fall, what should you do?
Well, be sure to talk with your doctor if you fall. A fall could be a sign of a new medical problem that needs attention, such as an infection or a cardiovascular disorder. It could also suggest that a treatment for a chronic ailment, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia, needs to be changed.
For the time immediately after a fall, here are some tips:
While you are still on the ground:
- Take several deep breaths to try to relax.
- Remain still on the floor or ground for a few moments. This will help you get over the shock of falling.
- Decide if you’re hurt before getting up. Getting up too quickly or in the wrong way could make an injury worse.
Once you are ready to get up:
- If you think you can get up safely without help, roll over onto your side.
- Rest again while your body and blood pressure adjust. Slowly get up on your hands and knees, and crawl to a sturdy chair.
- Put your hands on the chair seat and slide one foot forward so that it is flat on the floor. Keep the other leg bent so the knee is on the floor.
- From this kneeling position, slowly rise and turn your body to sit in the chair.
If you’re hurt or can’t get up, ask someone for help or call 911. If you’re alone, try to get into a comfortable position and wait for help to arrive.
For more information and resources, visit the NJ Dept of Human Services website: http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/services/fallprev/