With the unforgiving winter weather comes the increased risk of injuries due to falling. Montefiore Nyack Hospital shares changes, especially for seniors, to keep them safe- and ultimately, independent. Patricia Shea, PT, DPT, MPA, Director of Rehabilitation Services at Montefiore Nyack Hospital says falling once doubles your chances of falling again, and recommends steps to decrease risk in regards to the home, footwear, healthcare and exercise.
Changes in the Home
- Install stair railings.
- Put grab bars in the bathroom, by the toilet and in the shower or tub. Also consider a shower seat
- Get rid of throw rugs as they are tripping hazards.
- Add lighting to rooms, put in brighter bulbs and install nightlights in the bedroom and bathroom.
- Declutter. Items on the floor such as boxes, newspapers and electrical cords can easily be tripped on.
Changes in Footwear
- Choose sturdy shoes with nonskid soles, and avoid high heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles.
- Walk on clear pathways or ones that have been treated with sand or salt.
- If you find yourself walking on a slippery surface, bend your body slightly forward and take shorter strides or shuffle your feet.
- To avoid falling on ice or snow, beware of “black ice,” which is difficult to see.
Talk to Your Health Professionals
- Your doctor and pharmacist can review your medicines to see if they may be making you dizzy or sleepy.
- Taking a diuretic means you may need to go to the bathroom more frequently. If you’re getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, you may be increasing your risk of falling.
- Taking a sleeping pill can cause you to be disoriented if you wake up in the middle of the night.
- Get evaluated on your need for assistive walking devices such as a cane or a walker.
- Get a vision checkup at least once a year, and update your eyeglasses if needed.
Changes in Exercise
“Study after study has shown that increasing strength is linked with a decreasing risk of falls,” Dr. Shea says.
- Exercises that increase flexibility and muscle strength.
- Tai chi builds balance and confidence.
- Yoga increases flexibility. Also look for a chair yoga class.
- Pool exercises classes and Silver Sneakers exercise programs for older adults.
- Ask your doctor to recommend a physical therapist for an individual exercise program.
More than one out of four older people falls each year, but less than half tells their doctor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people who fall become afraid of falling again, which leads them to reduce their daily activities. They become weaker as a result, and this further increases their risk of falling.
For more information, visit the Montefiore Nyack Hospital website.