Afraid of Falling? Here's What You Can Do

Fear of falling

Falling is the leading cause of injury and death for older Americans. In fact, 1 in 3 older adults fall each year! Experts attribute the rise to the growing elderly population but also to the increasing use of medications and inactivity.

As more seniors live alone and practice an inactive lifestyle, falling is one of the greatest risks to their health and independence. The good news is, you actually have the power to prevent a fall.

So how can seniors stay independent, stay in their homes longer and continue to be active inside and outside? Here's a quick guide with some helpful resources.

1. Take a Course on Fall Prevention: There are a ton of courses on fall prevention offered at community senior centers across the country. We'd recommend a course that specializes in evidence based fall prevention and exercise programs, here are just a few recommend by the National Council on Aging (NCOA):

a. A Matter of Balance: An 8 week course designed to reduce the fear of falling and increase your activity level. Check it out here to see if there's a course near you.

b. CAPABLE (Community Aging in Place – Advancing Better Living for Elders): CAPABLE is a 5 month structured program developed at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing for low-income seniors to safely age in place. It teams a nurse, an occupational therapist and a handyman to address both the home environment and teaches older adults how to use their own strength to improve safety and independence.

c. Enhance Fitness: EnhanceFitness, a low-cost, evidence-based group exercise program, helping older adults at all levels of fitness become more active, energized, and empowered to sustain independent lives.

d. The FallScape Program: The easy-to-use software provides customized fall prevention programs in any setting and includes a standardized behavioral intervention (FallsTalk), reporting tools and individual program materials.

e. Fit & Strong: Fit & Strong! is an eight week evidence-based physical activity program for older adults with osteoarthritis. It has demonstrated significant functional and physical activity improvements in this population.

f. Healthy Steps for Older Adults: Healthy Steps for Older Adults is an evidence-based falls prevention program for adults ages 50 and over. The two 2 hour workshops are designed to raise participants’ fall prevention knowledge and awareness, introduce steps they can take to reduce falls and improve their health and well-being, and provide referrals and resources.

g. The Otago Exercise Program: The Otago Exercise Program is a series of 17 strength and balance exercises delivered by a Physical Therapist in the home that reduces falls between 35 and 40% for frail older adults. This evidence-based program, developed in New Zealand, calls for physical therapists to assess, coach and progress patients over the course of six months to one year. Download a free booklet here.

h. Stay Active and Independent For Life (SAIL): Sail is a structured strength, balance and fitness program with classes and certified instructors offered by the State of Washington for adults 65 and older.

i. YMCA Moving For Better Balance: Moving For Better Balance is a 12-week instructor-led group program designed to improve strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance for enhanced overall physical health and better functioning in daily activities. The program is based on the principles of Tai Chi. It teaches eight movements modified especially for fall prevention. A YMCA membership is not required to participate in the program. Check your local Y for participation details.

2. Modify Your Home: For older adults, their homes should be free and clear from potential fall-causing hazards, creating a balance between convenience, safety and mobility. Here are a few helpful resources to assess and potentially modify your home:

a. Home Safety Self Assessment Tool v.5 (HSSAT): In order to prevent falls at home, the Occupational Therapy Geriatric Group at the University at Buffalo created the Home Safety Self-Assessment Tool to disseminate information regarding how to prevent falls. It's comprehensive and provides a ton of valuable information.

b. Home Safety Adaptations for the Elderly: A great two pager on some of the more simple and quick home modifications you can make to prevent falls in the home brought to you by the University of Southern California's Fall Prevention Center of Excellence.

c. American Occupational Therapy Association's Fall Prevention Publications: The AOTA offers a series of articles, resources and tips on how to prevent falls in the home through home modifications.

3. Review Your Medications: Many medications can cause light headedness, dizziness, or drowsiness all leading to an increased risk of falling. If you're experiencing any of those symptoms, the Mayo clinic suggests you consult with your doctor to determine if one of your medications could be a potential cause, and if adjustment to the medication type, dosage or frequency should be explored.

4. Check Your Eyesight Annually: As we age, our eyesight can deteriorate rapidly. Older adults are susceptible to macular degenration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye, glaucoma and retina detachment. The American Optometric Association recommends anyone 60 years and older get an eye examination annually. Good vision will help you see obstacles that could cause you to trip or stumble, especially at night time.

5. Review Your Health With Your Doctor: Your overall health is a significant predictor of your ability to avoid falls. Get an annual check-up with your doctor and discuss anything that bothers you and discuss resources that could help you. Medicare now funds an Annual Wellness Visit to your doctor completely free (no co-pay or deductible) as part of its preventive program - take advantage. The visit covers:

  • A review of your medical and family history
  • Developing or updating a list of current providers and prescriptions
  • Height, weight, blood pressure, and other routine measurements
  • Detection of any cognitive impairment
  • Personalized health advice
  • A list of risk factors and treatment options for you
  • A screening schedule (like a checklist) for appropriate preventive services. Get details about coverage for screenings, shots, and other preventive services.

6. Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS): Despite your best efforts to prevent a fall, sometimes it happens anyway. Personal emergency response systems or life alert systems, made popular by the famous "I've fallen and can't get up" commercials, can be a huge help in limiting the damage.

The technology basically allows its wearer to press a button worn around their neck or wrist when they fall. When pressed, the button contacts the monitoring center who then asses the situation over a two way speaker or immediately dispatches emergency responders. Some of the best personal emergency response systems also offer fall detection, GPS tracking and mobile coverage for inside and outside the home.