How to prevent falls
Take these simple steps to stay safe and active
As anyone who has ever taken a tumble knows all too well, injury-causing falls can happen to anyone, anywhere, in a split-second. They can lead to head trauma, fractures, and even spinal cord injuries, warns Dr. Cynthia J. Brown, director of the division of gerontology, geriatrics, and palliative care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Fortunately, some simple steps can safeguard your home and protect you on-the-go.
Know the top home hazards
While a fall can happen anywhere, certain places are more risky. One of the top rooms for concern: the bathroom. “I ask my patients to tell me one soft place they can land in their bathroom if they fall,” says Dr. Brown. “All have answered that there aren’t any.” Dr. Brown recommends installing grab bars in the shower or beside the toilet. It’s also smart to use a nonslip mat in the shower.
Stairs are another place where a fall can lead to a significant injury. Having handrails on both sides and using them can reduce the risk of a fall, says Dr. Brown.
Independence Blue Cross (Independence) Medicare Advantage members can shop for these products using their Over-the-Counter (OTC) allowance ($30 quarterly allowance, up to $120 per year). This allowance can be used to pay for products from the Independence OTC catalog, offered through Convey.* You can access the catalog by visiting ibxmedicare.com/otc; see the “Bathroom Safety & Fall Prevention” section for available products.
Take a walking tour
“In our fall-prevention clinic at the Birmingham VA Medical Center, we encourage our patients to walk through their homes looking for hazards,” says Dr. Brown. Ask these questions: Are the pathways clear? Are there loose rugs you can trip over? Is the lighting bright enough to allow you to see? Try to address any hazards you find.
Give yourself a steady foundation
Studies show that footwear can make a difference in avoiding falls, says Dr. Brown. “Shoes with good support, low heels, and a back are best—no slip-ons.”
Improve strength, balance, and flexibility
“Staying strong is critical, since people who are weak are four times as likely to fall as people who are strong,” says Dr. Brown. “Simple exercises, like chair stands (trying to stand from a kitchen chair without using your arms), can help build your leg muscles.”
Balance and flexibility are also important. A number of studies have shown that Tai Chi is beneficial in those areas, she says. Look for classes offered in your community. If needed, your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist who can teach you an exercise routine to do in your home, adds Dr. Brown.
Talk with your doctor
If you’re concerned about falls or risk factors that affect your mobility, make sure to bring up the topic with your doctor.
“Ideally, your doctors should ask at least once a year about falls,” says Dr. Brown. “But if they don’t, let them know if you have fallen or feel shaky. They can watch you walk and check to see how steady you are. They can also think about your medications and other factors that might contribute to falls. But if they don’t know you have experienced a fall, they can’t help you.”
Medications can increase the risk of falls, as can poor vision, dizziness, and circulation issues in your feet. People who have memory problems can also be prone to falls.
Don’t live in fear
“After a fall, many people develop a fear of falling,” says Dr. Brown. “This fear makes them much more cautious, to the point that they may restrict their activities for fear of having another fall.”
While being cautious is often good, this fear can interfere with your lifestyle. Don’t let it! “Gaining confidence and improving your balance through exercise can help,” says Dr. Brown.
*The Independence Blue Cross Over the Counter benefit is underwritten by QCC Insurance Company and is administered by Convey Health Solutions, Inc., an independent company.