The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently published a study, which found that for people over the age 75, the rate of mortality due to falls has more than doubled from 2000 to 2016. In a New York Times article about the study, Elizabeth Burns, one of its authors, noted that the likely reason behind this stark increase is the fact that people are living longer under conditions that may have been fatal in the past. Although the upward trend is alarming and is due in large part to increased lifespans, there are many ways to mitigate the risks that lead to falls. The Times article provides five useful tips we can all follow.
Another study published by the same journal, JAMA, last year found that those over 70 years of age who practiced tai chi twice a week for an hour, reduced their incidence of falls by 58%. But not everyone is adept at the ancient Chinese martial art. Many healthcare professionals and scholars – including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – recommend exercising at least 20 minutes a day in order to maintain strength, stability, and balance. In order to get the most benefit out of this time, the exercise should combine aerobic and anaerobic activity.
The CDC provides a very thorough compendium of effective fall interventions on their website here.
2. Understanding Your Medications
Another issue those healthcare professionals note in the Times article is the use of medications, particularly those used to help sleep, among seniors. Because metabolism slows as we age, the effects of benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax, are more likely to cause dizziness. Non- benzo medications that are used as sedatives (e.g. Ambien, Advil PM) can also affect balance.
Many doctors are now recommending alternative sleep aids, such as melatonin, to help mitigate the issues caused by stronger sleep medications.
3. Accessorize for Success
Erring on the side of practicality can also play a huge role in preventing falls. Comfortable and stable footwear provides a solid and sure base while walking. Try to avoid any footwear you can slip out of or that doesn’t have a solid tread. Fashion footwear – high heels, wedges, or sandals – needs to be less of a priority than safety when thinking about fall prevention.
In addition, swapping out your bifocals for a pair of single-focus glasses while walking outside can help with depth perception and focus. In many cases, a small change in height, like an unmarked curb, can go unrecognized when wearing bifocals and cause a major spill.
Lastly, if your doctor has recommended the use of a walker or cane, use it. If your pride gets in the way, remind yourself that studies show you will be independent for longer if you use these aids when you need them.
4. Identify and Eliminate Tripping Hazards
Small rugs, extension cords, magazines, newspaper stacks, or even your pets can all cause falls. Reducing the number of tripping hazards in your home is important to help reduce the potential for falls. Similar to point three above, even slight changes in elevation – from hardwood floors to a carpet – could cause a trip or a fall. Use visual cues and nightlights as reminders for these changes in order to help avoid them.
Drinking plenty of water is great way to fight off dizzy spells and avoid falls. Most health experts recommend drinking eight 8-ounce glasses, or about a half-gallon, of water each day. Staying hydrated will also force frequent and scheduled trips to the bathroom, which promotes exercise. Dorothy Baker, a senior research scientist in geriatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, suggests that “doing that sit-to-stand is really good exercise and good for balance. Do a few extras while you’re there.”
At Hodgkins Law, it’s important to us that our clients and our neighbors stay as healthy and as independent as they can for as long as they can. However, we know that falls and other illnesses can unexpectedly leave you in need of assistance at any time, so we work with families to get a plan in place before you need one. For more information, please visit our website or give us a call, attend a free educational seminar, or schedule a consultation with our team.