Research shows that falls can often be prevented. The most common recommendation for reducing one’s risk of falling is to exercise. Several different kinds of physical activity have been found to reduce the risk of falling. These include stretches to improve flexibility of the feet, legs, and hips and resistance training to strengthen the abdominal and back muscles and increase endurance. If you don’t like to exercise, try joining a group that exercises together to help motivate you. The ancient Chinese practice of tai chi, which is typically done in groups and involves going through a series of poses, has been shown to offer older adults improved balance, range of motion, strength, coordination, endurance, and reaction time.
Wear sturdy, nonslip footwear that fits properly; this will help you keep your balance, stay mobile, and avoid turning your ankles. Shoes that fit also protect the skin on your feet by lowering your risk of developing small wounds that could become ulcers. If you have diabetes and loss of sensation or neuropathy in your feet, Medicare may cover the cost of therapeutic footwear. To qualify, your doctor must complete a certificate of medical necessity and document your need for special shoes in your medical records. The shoes and any inserts must be prescribed by a podiatrist or other qualified doctor and provided by a podiatrist, orthotist, prosthetist, or pedorthist.
If you use a walking aid such as a cane or walker, ask your physical therapist or another knowledgeable member of your health-care team to check your gait to make sure you are using the device correctly. Be especially cautious when carrying items while you are walking.
Use this checklist to evaluate your home for safety challenges and to make any changes needed to ensure your safety:
• Remove throw rugs or hang them on your walls for decoration.
• Secure carpet edges (duct tape works in a pinch).
• Reduce floor clutter, including any obstacles or wires in high-traffic areas.
• Remove or modify low furniture, and move objects off the floor so that you don’t have to reach down. If chairs are too low, add a dense foam cushion to raise the height of the seat so that you can sit and stand more easily.
• Keep your home adequately illuminated, especially at night. Make sure you can reach a lamp (or a light switch) from your bed.
• In the kitchen and elsewhere, avoid step stools. It is a good idea to stay off ladders, too. Reorganize your belongings so that these devices are not necessary.
• In bathrooms, install grab bars in the tub or shower and by the toilet. Medicare and Medicaid will not pay for these devices, but your safety is worth your expense. If you get tired or have balance problems when showering, buy a shower stool or chair (one with rubber feet) so that you can sit down.
• Remove mats from the bathroom floor when the bathtub or shower is not in use.
• Place treads on stairs and secure any stairway carpeting. To avoid tripping, do not leave any items on or near stairs.
• Make sure that indoor and outdoor stairs are well lit. Some companies make inexpensive battery-powered lights for indoor stairways that can be mounted or fastened onto the wall.
• Stairs, whether indoors or outdoors, should ideally have handrails on both sides, extending the length of the stairwell.
• If you wear bifocal lenses, place fluorescent tape on each step of any staircases so you will not accidentally miss a step.
• Repair any cracks in outdoor walkways and driveways. Check to make sure that the surface is level, and if it is not, have it repaved or have the bricks relaid to make it so.
• Keep shrubs trimmed along pathways, and make sure there are no weeds to trip over.
• Illuminate long walkways.
• Use night lights throughout your home.