One of the reasons I study and practice yoga is to maintain my balance during my life after 50. We do poses to improve our balance on two feet with poses such as “Warrior” and on one foot with poses such as “Tree.” Being better balanced can help prevent falls as we age. As the snow piled up on my doorstep recently, I was reminded of how easy it is to slip on icy and wet surfaces during the cold-weather months. Several family members and friends fell on black ice last winter. One friend fractured her elbow.
According to the National Safety Floor Institute (NSFI), falls are the leading cause of hospital emergency room visits. An AARP Bulletin in December 2015 says, “Injuries caused by falls are affecting adults ages 45 to 64, just as they are for those 65 and older, according to data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s national injury-surveillance system.” Not good news.
Fall prevention may not seem like a lively topic, but it’s important. As you get older, physical changes and health conditions and sometimes the medications used to treat those conditions make falls more likely. In fact, falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. Still, fear of falling doesn’t need to rule your life. Instead, consider six simple fall-prevention strategies.
Did you know that one in four older Americans falls every year? Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active. If you have an aging parent, grandparent, or neighbor in your life, helping them reduce their risk of falling is a great way to help them stay healthy and independent as long as possible.
So now that you know falling is a serious health issue, what can you do to prevent a fall?
“Shoes Designed With Your Sole In Mind”
Besides practicing yoga for balance, I was interested to learn about a line of shoes that was engineered to be slip-resistant.”We are a footwear company that makes casual flats and sandals for women. However, we use a fully patented outsole that provides the strongest grip on all slippery surfaces. We focus on primarily shoes designed to prevent slips and falls,” said Rhea Footwear’s cofounder John Lee in his email. He offered to send a pair for me to try.
Rhea Footwear makes slip-resistant shoes and flip-flops.
The Rhea website says John and his cofounder, Paul Ahn, brought together the technology that provides superior grip on all terrains and a stylish design while at Cornell University (my alma mater). During their time in Ithaca, New York place where it rains and snows more often than it shines they were unable to find shoes that were practical in the rain and snow while being stylish. Rhea was founded with the mission to deliver high-quality shoes that integrate style with technology. (Wish I had these shoes when I had to climb Libe Slope to make it to class during winters in the ’70s. Half the time I felt like when I put one foot forward the other foot went backward.)
I took my Rhea blue suede loafers out for a walk after the snowstorm yesterday. They did grab the wet ground nicely and I didn’t fall. I didn’t try any ice skating with them not a sport I wanted to test out with loafers, even if they do have a high COF, better known as coefficient of friction.
John says that “as a general number in the slip-resistant shoe industry, a coefficient rating of 0.5 or above (from a scale of 0.0 to 1.0) is considered to be slip-resistant.” It’s like checking the tires on your car for tread. I tested out my Rhea blue suede loafers on the ice yesterday.
Finding Stylish Shoes for My Flat Feet
I do like my blue suede loafers, but I need a more supportive shoe for my flat arches. So I am sending a challenge to the smart Cornell grads of Rhea Footwear to ask them to develop a stylish woman’s shoe that has more support with a thicker sole than a loafer. The shoe must also be able to fit my orthotic insert.
I just bought a new pair of SAS shoes that my podiatrist recommended with laces and rubber soles. They aren’t the most flattering fashion statement, butthey are really supportive, fit my orthotic and, most important, I can wear them all day with comfort and ease.
After visiting the Rhea website and looking at the men’s collection, I think the company could easily design a nice stylish lace-up shoe that would work for me. (Let me know if you are game to try it, guys!) I bet there would be a big market among boomer women.
More Tips for Preventing Falls
The NFSI has more tips for preventing falls including:
- Always tie loose shoelaces.
- Check the outsole of your shoes for excessive wear. Shoes provide less grip as the outsoles wear out.
- Inspect and clean your shoes regularly to remove any debris that gets stuck in the outsole. Debris can reduce the resistance of the shoes.
- Be extra careful when walking indoors from outside, especially when it is wet outside. Use mats to wipe and dry your shoe’s outsole at the entrance to your home. (Be careful that the mats have good grippers so they don’t slip around, which can cause falls, too.)
The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented. The key is to know where to look. Here are some common factors that can lead to a fall:
- Balance and gait:
- As we age, most of us lose some coordination, flexibility, and balance primarily through inactivity, making it easier to fall.
- In the aging eye, less light reaches the retina mmaking contrasting edges, tripping hazards, and obstacles harder to see.
- Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall.
- Most seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and have never thought about simple modifications that might keep it safer as they age.
- Chronic conditions:
- More than 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, stroke, or arthritis. Often, these increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or multiple medications.
8 Steps to Reducing Falls
Here are six easy steps you can take today to help your older loved one reduce their risk of a fall:
1. Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe.
Ask your older loved one if they’re concerned about falling. Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt even if they’ve already fallen in the past. A good place to start is by sharing NCOA’s Debunking the Myths of Older Adult Falls. If they’re concerned about falling, dizziness, or balance, suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider who can assess their risk and suggest programs or services that could help.
2. Discuss their current health conditions.
Find out if your older loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications or are they experiencing side effects? Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily?
Also make sure they’re taking advantage of all the preventive benefits now offered under Medicare, such as the Annual Wellness visit. Encourage them to speak openly with their health care provider about all of their concerns.
3. Ask about their last eye checkup.
If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor.
Remember that using tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings and homes. A simple strategy is to change glasses upon entry or stop until their lenses adjust.
Bifocals also can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious. For those already struggling with low vision, consult with a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of their eyesight.
4. Notice if they’re holding onto walls, furniture, or someone else when walking or if they appear to have difficulty walking or arising from a chair.
These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist. A trained physical therapist can help your older loved one improve their balance, strength, and gait through exercise. They might also suggest a cane or walker and provide guidance on how to use these aids. Make sure to follow their advice. Poorly fit aids actually can increase the risk of falling.
5. Talk about their medications.
If your older loved one is having a hard time keeping track of medicines or is experiencing side effects, encourage them to discuss their concerns with their doctor and pharmacist. Suggest that they have their medications reviewed each time they get a new prescription.
My mom had an elaborate spreadsheet to keep track of her medications and schedules. Adding a timed medication dispenser that my sister refilled each month promoted her peace of mind and allowed us to ensure her adherence to the prescribed regime.
Also, beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids including painkillers with “PM” in their names. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness. If your older loved one is having sleeping problems, encourage them to talk to their doctor or pharmacist about safer alternatives.
6. Do a walk-through safety assessment of their home.
There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer. For professional assistance, consult an Occupational Therapist. Here are some examples:
Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs. Ensure that lighting is readily available when getting up in the middle of the night.
Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.
Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. Make sure they’re installed where your older loved one would actually use them. For even greater safety, consider using a shower chair and hand-held shower.
For more ideas on how to make the home safer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a home assessment checklist in multiple languages. NCOA, the Administration on Aging, and the CDC also promote a variety of community-based programs, like A Matter of Balance, Stepping On, and Tai Chi, that can help older adults learn how to reduce their risk of falling. Contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out what’s available in your area.
7. Make an appointment with your doctor
Begin your fall-prevention plan by making an appointment with your doctor. Be prepared to answer questions such as:
What medications are you taking?
Make a list of your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements, or bring them with you to the appointment. Your doctor can review your medications for side effects and interactions that may increase your risk of falling. To help with fall prevention, your doctor may consider weaning you off medications that make you tired or affect your thinking, such as sedatives and some types of antidepressants.
Have you fallen before?
Write down the details, including when, where and how you fell. Be prepared to discuss instances when you almost fell but were caught by someone or managed to grab hold of something just in time. Details such as these may help your doctor identify specific fall-prevention strategies.
Could your health conditions cause a fall?
Certain eye and ear disorders may increase your risk of falls. Be prepared to discuss your health conditions and how comfortable you are when you walk for example, do you feel any dizziness, joint pain, shortness of breath, or numbness in your feet and legs when you walk? Your doctor may evaluate your muscle strength, balance and walking style (gait) as well.
Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. With your doctor’s OK, consider activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi a gentle exercise that involves slow and graceful dance-like movements. Such activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility.
If you avoid physical activity because you’re afraid it will make a fall more likely, tell your doctor. He or she may recommend carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physical therapist. The physical therapist can create a custom exercise program aimed at improving your balance, flexibility, muscle strength and gait.
9.Wear sensible shoes
Consider changing your footwear as part of your fall-prevention plan. High heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble and fall. So can walking in your stocking feet. Instead, wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles. Sensible shoes may also reduce joint pain.
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