Did you know that September is National Falls Prevention Awareness Month? As specialists in treating arthritis and orthopedic conditions, falls prevention is of particular concern to all of us at Hospital for Special Surgery and to the patients we see and treat. Talking with your doctor about your bone health and keeping yourself safe from hazards in your home are falls prevention strategies. Below are common key factors that may contribute to falls and essential prevention strategies you can employ to stay healthy:
Your bone health
Osteoporosis, a condition where bones become thin and weak, contributes to over 2 million bone fractures every year. Many of these fractures are due to preventable falls. A discussion with your healthcare provider is the first step in understanding your bone health. Discuss what you can do together to prevent and monitor bone loss.
Your vision and hearing
Reduced vision and low hearing can affect your balance and how you navigate your environment, both indoors and outdoors. Make sure you have your vision and hearing checked annually. Be sure to see your doctor if you notice any changes, even if it’s before your next scheduled assessment.
The medicines you take
Some side effects of common medicines or the combination of medicines can cause dizziness or drowsiness, which can contribute to falls. This can be especially true for older adults. Make sure to review all of the medicines you take with your doctor or pharmacist to address side effects. If you experience any concerns about your medicines, be sure to call your healthcare provider.
Many studies suggest that depression is related to an increased falls risk, due to the social isolation and avoidance of activities that depression can incur. The key is to maintain social connections. Talk to friends and family, take a class, or join a support or community group to stay connected. If you notice that you are generally sad or down and feeling alone, or avoiding activities you once enjoyed, bring it to the attention of a healthcare provider to discuss options for treatment.
Your level of physical activity
Keeping active helps to improve coordination, muscle and bone strength – all are essential in maintaining good balance and preventing falls. Talk to your healthcare provider about possible referrals for a physical therapist that can help design an individualized exercise program for your specific needs. A physical therapist can also assess whether you might benefit from an assistive device such as a cane or walker. The goal is to keep moving and stay active and to do it safely!
Pretend you are a visitor in your own home, what would your guest see?
Ensure safety in your home by:
- Keeping floors clutter-free and cleaning up spills immediately
- Use nightlights in hallways and bathrooms
- Wear rubber-soled shoes and avoid wearing socks in the home
- Keep important items within your reach and use grab bars in your tub and nonskid mats on bathroom floors
- If you have a pet, be aware of your pet’s location- tripping on pets is a common cause of falls
Speak with your healthcare provider about requesting a certified home health agency visit to your apartment or house for a safety evaluation. This assessment can help identify potential concerns specific to your home and make recommendations to make your environment safer.
History of previous falls
Following a fall, it may take some time to recuperate, and return to your previous level of activity. This reduced activity creates a cycle which is associated with higher risk of another fall. It might be helpful to consult with your physician to address any injuries that might have resulted from the fall. A referral to a physical therapist can help you work on your muscle strength and balance. Try to return to your regular activities as soon as you are able.
It is not uncommon to experience feelings of depression, anxiety and decreased confidence after having a fall. These feelings can lead to avoidance of activities out of fear of falling again. Social workers and other mental health professionals can help you talk about your feelings about falling. It can be useful to talk about these feelings with someone who understands and can help address them.
Your medical visit
Falls prevention strategies should be part of a larger health discussion. Prepare for your next doctor’s appointment by making a list of your symptoms and questions. Some questions to ask are:
- What might be causing me to fall?
- What do I need to do about it?
- What kind of screening or tests do I need to have?
- What can I expect from the treatment you are suggesting?
- Are there any other options for treatment?
Your healthcare team of doctors, physical therapists, nurses, and social workers can be good resources to provide suggestions on prevention strategies and how you can best talk to your doctor about falls. It’s common for many people to minimize the consequences that may result from a fall. The first step is to be aware of the issue and then follow these valuable tips that can help you to stay active, involved and safe.
For more information on falls prevention tips, please visit https://hss.edu/voices60.asp
Juliette Kleinman is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialty in geriatrics and is the manager of the VOICES 60+ Senior Advocacy Program at Hospital for Special Surgery.