Health Checkup: Preventing Falling

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As we age, our risk of falling increases. One out of every three individuals ages 65 and older experiences a fall each year. Fortunately, most falls don’t have serious consequences — but about 5 percent of falls result in a fracture and require hospitalization.

To reduce your risk of falling and improve your balance, consider the following simple steps:

De-clutter the house: Research emphasizes the importance of reducing hazards in the home. Remove clutter, pick up papers or clothes from the ground and move garbage bins underneath cabinets. Avoid dimly lit hallways and other areas of your home by keeping them well lit. Clean up spills promptly and make sure your furniture is stable. Finally, use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors, and secure loose area rugs with double-sided tape or slip-resistant backing.

Keep moving: Exercise programs that include balance training and muscle strengthening reduce the risk of falls. Studies have shown that older adults who start exercising after retirement had balance nearly as good as those who had always been active. Conversely, those who had once been active but stopped engaging in regular exercise had balance nearly as poor as those who had never been active.

Do simple balance exercises. Here are some easy ways you can improve your balance and lower body strength. Try these exercises at home, but be sure to have something nearby that you can steady yourself with.

• Balanced stand. Stand on one foot. Hold your weight on one leg for 30 seconds or longer. Then switch feet.

• Sit and stand. Get up from a chair and sit back down. Try to do this multiple times throughout the day.

• Tight-rope walk. Walk heel to toe. Position your heel in front of the toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch. After taking 10-20 steps forward, reverse and walk backwards toe to heel.

Check your medications and any chronic health conditions with your doctor. If you are on medicine that makes you feel dizzy or lightheaded, talk to your doctor. He or she can review your medications and make adjustments to help improve your balance. If you have chronic health conditions or mobility concerns, your doctor will perform a medical assessment, such as checking for deterioration in your eyesight, gait and balance. Together, you can develop a prevention plan to reduce your chance of experiencing a fall.