Fear of falling is a natural and near-universal instinct – with good
reason. Falls can cause serious injuries, including head trauma, shoulder
and forearm fractures, spine fractures, pelvic fractures, and hip fractures.
And although falls can happen to people of any age, older people fall
more often and are much more likely to suffer serious injuries from falls.
“Unfortunately, older people who are very afraid of falling are more
likely to fall,” says
Almaas Shaikh, MD, FACS, medical director of trauma at
Mission Hospital, where falls are a leading cause of trauma. Mission Hospital’s trauma
experts treat about 1,300 fall patients a year. “Serious fall injuries
can lead to lengthy hospitalization and a decrease in mobility. Over time,
the loss of independent living skills frequently results in the person
relocating to a nursing home or an assisted living facility. We help fall
patients get better but we also want to prevent falls from happening in
the first place. Educating people about the steps they can take to be
safer and giving them the tools to build their self-confidence are extremely
Dr. Shaikh says everyone should know the common causes of falls. Poor vision
or hearing, low blood pressure, muscle weakness and chronic health conditions
such as heart disease and dementia increase the likelihood of falling,
as do poor lighting in the home and side effects of medication.
“Once a person knows and follows the basics of fall prevention, they
are empowered to lead their normal lifestyle without letting a healthy
respect for falls turn into a debilitating fear,” Dr. Shaikh says.
Dr. Shaikh shares the following tips for preventing falls:
See your primary care physician. Certain medications can have side effects such as dizziness or sleepiness
that can lead to falls. Go over all of the medicines you’re taking,
including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements. People
who are taking four or more medications are more likely to fall, as are
people who’ve changed their medicine within the past two weeks.
Your doctor may also want to give you a TUG test. TUG stands for Timed
Up and Go, and it consists of having you take simple timed actions that
measure your balance, your ability to go from a sitting to standing position,
and your walking ability.
If your doctor thinks you would benefit from additional therapy outside
of the doctor’s office, ask for a referral to a physical therapist
or occupational therapist who can design a program to improve your mobility.
Wear sturdy shoes. Wearing proper footwear every day is one of the easiest fall prevention
steps you can take. Safe shoes are ones that won’t cause you to
trip or slip. Sneakers and walking shoes with slide-resistant soles offer
comfort and grip. If you must wear heels, wear low ones and be extra careful
to properly plant your feet. For casual wear around the house, instead
of slippers with a flap that can catch under your feet and make you stumble,
wear non-skid socks with sticky dots on the sole.
Remove fall hazards. It’s a lot harder to avoid tripping and falling if your home’s
hallways, stairways, and living areas are cluttered. Electrical cords
should not stretch across paths where people walk. Tables and chairs shouldn’t
extend where you might run into a leg or an edge. Carpets and floorboards
must lay flush and smooth. Don’t store things where you need a stepladder
to reach them. Don’t use ladders outside your home without assistance.
Think of other common sense ways to keep your walkways clear and your
Keep your home well-lit. If you can’t see where you’re walking, you’re bound
to trip, slide, or fall. Night lights that turn on automatically will
help you get to the bathroom or kitchen safely. Light switches that glow
are easier to find in the dark. Your living area lights should be bright
enough to give you a clear view of where you’re going or what you’re
Take advantage of assistive devices. Don’t forego the help provided by the many assistive devices designed
to keep you on your feet. Canes and walkers give you added stability when
you walk, and there are many fall prevention items that be installed in
different areas of your house: stair railings; seats and bars for the
toilet, tub, or shower; reachers that can grab things from shelves and
floors; and many more.
A fall can be a major life-changing event. Don’t let a fall take
away the ability of someone you love to lead an independent life. Attend
a fall prevention program like the Keep Your Feet Planted program presented
free by the Mission Hospital Trauma Center, where our community’s
seniors and their loved ones learn strategies for a fall-free lifestyle.
To learn more, call Mission Hospital Trauma Outreach Services at (949) 364-7754.
What steps have you taken to fall-proof your home? Share a comment below.