Get going today to prevent serious falls tomorrow

Falling is a common and serious problem among older adults, but not an inevitable one. Simple steps taken now to improve your health, strength and balance will help you avoid falls now and into the future.

Fall prevention begins with awareness.

Know the risks and how they might apply to you; then take action to reduce or eliminate them. As one HAP organization put it: "The more you do today, the more you can continue to do tomorrow."

The most common risk factors for falls include: muscle weakness and poor coordination; multiple medications; vision and hearing problems; foot problems; certain diseases and conditions; alcohol or drug abuse; mental confusion; and hazards in the home.

Ironically, a fear of falling can also increase your risk. It's okay to be careful, but fear can lead to physical inactivity, which can lead to weakness, balance problems and other health issues.

On the flip side, sedentary older adults can see surprising improvements in strength, cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility and balance when they start and maintain a regular, moderate exercise regimen, such as walking 30 minutes each day.

Staying physically active also helps keep your brain healthy, reduces depression and builds self-confidence and a sense of well-being.

Here are some other tips to help you prevent falls and stay independent as you age:

  • Have your vision and hearing checked regularly by a professional and wear glasses and use hearing aids if needed.
  • Talk to your doctor about adjusting medications to avoid dizziness and other side effects. Older adults who take four or more medications or take psychoactive drugs, such as tranquilizers and sleep aids, are more likely to fall.
  • Eat regular, nutritious meals to keep up your strength and energy. Make sure your diet includes plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.
  • Join a fitness class. Yoga, Pilates, weight training, tai chi and dance all improve strength and balance. (Be sure to check with your physician before beginning any fitness program.)
  • Remove hazards around the home. Pick up clutter from floors, use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower, remove or secure loose rugs, improve lighting and install grab bars in the bathroom and handrails next to stairways.
  • Wear rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes that fit snugly, but aren't too tight. Avoid high heels, slip-ons and shoes with slick soles.
  • If you live alone, prepare for the possibility of a serious fall. Consider getting an electronic device or portable help button that alerts a response center in the event of an emergency.
  • Take your time. Get up slowly after eating or lying down, be aware of your surroundings and use handrails.