How seniors can prevent falls
Our expert Dr. David Hogan is the Brenda Strafford Foundation Chair in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Calgary
Video: Fall Prevention
Q: I’m 82 years old and recently fell. While I wasn’t hurt, I’m worried I might fall again. How can I prevent another tumble?
A: Your concern is well-founded. Falls are both common and serious. About a third of people over the age of 65 fall at least once every year. The Alberta Centre for Injury Control & Research reports falls by seniors resulted in more than 18,000 emergency department visits and 6,915 hospital admissions in 2006.
I always recommend reporting a fall to your physician, who can help uncover the individual factors that could lead to you falling again.
In general, I recommend three things to prevent falls:
The first is to be active. Physical activity can make the body stronger, improve balance and reduce the risk of falling. If you’re not as steady on your feet as you used to be, consider asking a professional caregiver if you need a cane or a walker. I recommend good footwear and, in winter, slip-on traction devices (similar to mountain climber’s crampons) for shoes and boots and ice picks for canes. It is important to avoid becoming so afraid of falling that you don’t get out of your house or your chair.
Next, check your environment. Loose carpets, bathtubs without handrails, icy sidewalks, uneven surfaces, pets, toys and other objects underfoot are all hazards. When you think about it, walking is really controlled falling — it’s amazing we don’t fall more.
Finally, check your medications and nutrition. Prescriptions for anxiety, depression, sleep, sedatives or tranquilizers and a variety of other medications can lead to a fall. Your physician can help you weigh the relative benefits and risks of your medications. As for nutrition, vitamin D has attracted the greatest interest. In addition to its other health benefits, recent studies have found many people who fall don’t have enough vitamin D. Osteoporosis Canada recommends a daily intake of 800 to 2,000 IU for adults over 50.
As we age, the way we do our daily activities may need to change, including the way we sit down and get up from chairs.
Sitting down safely
Choose a chair that supports your back, elbows, thighs and feet. Make sure your chair legs are flat on the bottom — no rollers — and use chairs with arm rests.
To sit down:
Back up to the chair, using the armrests to guide you.
Make sure the back of your knees touch the chair seat.
Using the armrests for support, sit down slowly.
To stand up:
Place your hands on the armrests, and stand up slowly.
Pause, get your balance, and then move away from the chair.
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