When Dick Van Dyke did his famous slapstick tumble over the ottoman in the opening of his ‘60s sitcom, it was funny. Back then, a fall for Dick—or for that matter, for us—was no big deal. We’d bounce right back up and keep right on going. But not anymore. These days, a fall can put us out of commission for weeks or months and have lingering “fallout” (pun intended) for years to come.
But just because one in three seniors will take a spill each year, falling is hardly an inevitable consequence of aging. Here are some ways you can avoid being part of that statistic:
1) Keep moving
Some seniors have the mistaken impression that if they don’t move around much, they won’t fall. The reverse is often true. The less you move, the more strength, balance, coordination and flexibility you lose, which will increase your risk of falling. Taking up a regular exercise regimen such as walking, water aerobics, yoga or tai chi can help you stay strong and agile and, as a result, keep you on your feet.
2) Review your medications
Certain medications, such sedatives or antidepressants, can have side effects that might cause you to lose your balance. If you’re experiencing any lightheadedness or dizziness, ask your physician whether your medications may be a contributing factor.
3) Keep an eye on your eyes and ears
Certain eye conditions such as cataracts and ear conditions like labyrinthitis can increase your risk of falls. Be sure to have your eyes and ears checked regularly by your physician.
4) Maintain sure footing
High heels, flip flops, slippers, shoes with slick soles, and walking in your stocking feet may cause you to trip, slip or stumble. My mom recently fell, walking down her stairs in flip-flops. The iced tea she was holding never spilled, but her broken ankle laid her up for quite a while.
5) Clear paths
A box, bag or pair of shoes can seem so innocuous, but when left in a place that you’re not expecting it, it can become a dangerous fall hazard. Cords and loose rugs in our path can also be an accident waiting to happen. Keep your paths clear of any and all obstacles.
6) Keep the lights on
Light your way with nightlights and flow-in-the-dark light switches. Also never attempt to go down stairs without flipping on the light.
7) Leave the climbing to someone else
Need to change a light bulb in an overhead fixture or get a tray off the top shelf? Store the ladder safely in the garage and save these tasks for when your kids or grandkids come to visit. A few years back, while climbing steps without a handrail at a shooting range, my dad lost his balance and fell to the ground, shattering his pelvis. He was in the hospital for more than a week and rehab for months.
8) Watch where you’re going
It’s so easy to get distracted—by your cell phone, by someone talking to you or simply by a wandering mind—and trip on a curb or miss a step. Just like driving, make sure to pay attention while walking to avoid an accident.
Share your tips for preventing falls.