Fall Prevention: We All Have a Role To Play
Fall Prevention Month is a November campaign that aims to raise awareness about falls and ways to prevent them. Together we can raise the profile of fall prevention and help everyone see their role in keeping adults safe as they age.
Why do we need to promote Fall Prevention Month? The motto says it all, “It takes a community to prevent a fall: We all have a role to play”. When someone falls, it affects the individual, the family, the community and the health care system. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among Canadian older adults. Each year, 20-30% of older adults have a fall.
There is much that can be done on a personal, home and community level to prevent falls for older adults; falls do not need to be an inevitable part of aging.
On a personal level, there are some things that cannot be changed such as your genetic background and past history of falls. However, general health is most important and some helpful strategies to prevent falls include:
- good nutrition, being neither over nor underweight
- adequate exercise to maintain and improve strength, flexibility, agility, and balance
- vision checks
- comfort and skill in the proper use of assistive devices
- footwear that fits well and has non-slip soles, especially boots in winter
- medication reviews with your healthcare provider
- slow down, hurrying is a major culprit of falls
Less well known for preventing falls is getting hearing checks. People fall when they misstep while concentrating on trying to hear something. Fear of falling is also a huge factor because the fear can discourage you from being active and moving – both which help to keep our muscles strong and prevent falls. Medical conditions that affect balance, strength and flexibility are all risk factors as are certain medications and the use of alcohol or cannabis.
At home, the first step to fall prevention is to perform a home safety checklist. Many of these are available online. Your check should include all the rooms in your home with suggestions for improvement. Considerations include:
- Adequate lighting indoors and outdoors, especially with night lights
- Stair coverings are secure, non-slip and include a strip of a different colour on the edge of each step
- Stair railings are reachable and small enough around so that you can grasp them
- Clutter free walkways and floors, especially stairs and being aware of electrical and other cords
- Bathroom grab bars and non-slip/trip floor covering
- Organize items in your cabinets so that the items you use most often are easy to reach
- Make sure you have a light that is easy to reach from bed
We can prevent falls in the community and public places by speaking up, being proactive, and supporting Age Friendly Communities. Help everyone stay safe and enjoy the social and physical wellbeing that comes from being active and avoiding falls.
Fall prevention is especially important with the winter weather approaching. Be sure to choose warm, stable footwear; look for well-insulated and lightweight footwear with a non-slip tread sole. Consider using a cane or walking poles, and use ice grippers on footwear and assistive devices when outside. Ideally, snow and ice will be removed from walkways, but if you find yourself on a slippery surface just remember, “walk like a penguin”: walk flat footed; point your feet out slightly; keep your centre of gravity over your feet; take shorter, shuffle-like steps; keep your arms at your sides (not in your pockets!); concentrate on your balance; and go slowly.
Stay safe and avoid falls!
Naomi Giuliano is a Health Promoter at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
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