It's Fall Prevention Awareness Week, a good time to reflect on how serious a problem falls are. One third of adults 65 and older fall each year. The direct annual medical costs related to falls are $30 billion. By 2020, the over-65 U.S. population is projected to be 55 million, and projected annual medical costs related to falls are $54.9 billion.
As an older adult, you must be mindful in ways you've never been before, as folks in my NYC community-based fall prevention classes have illustrated over the years. In response to these folks' experiences, which include accidents and falls, I've developed some tips that you can share with your friends and family. I hope they prevent you or a loved one from experiencing a fall.
To reduce the risk of slips, trips, near-misses and falls:
1. Never put your underpants on standing up. It might sound like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many older adults still take the chance of putting on their pants or underpants without stabilizing themselves by holding onto something or sitting.
2. Step on the leash to pick up the poo. Don't risk Fido getting frisky, pulling you off balance, and sending you flying! Keep your dog close, take firm hold of the leash, then step on it while you bend down to clean up after your dog.
3. Be warned. If you think "This is unsafe -- but I'll take care of it later," don't wait! Often you're not hurt "by accident," but "by lack of action." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard "I knew I should have closed the dishwasher door; picked up the magazines off the floor; tucked away that loose computer cable before leaving the room to answer the phone, the doorbell, to go to the bathroom, check emails, take a nap," etc. Eliminate a problem when you first see it.
4. Hold the staircase railing whether you think you need to or not. Same rule applies to escalators. You never know when someone behind or ahead of you might lose his or her balance and come tumbling down. Your falls won't always be your fault, so be alert to your environment and be cautious.
5. Gents, if you must reach in your back pocket for your wallet, and Ladies, if you need to dig into your purse -- especially if your balance is a bit shaky -- first, stop what you're doing (walking, chatting with a friend, talking on your cell phone). Pause. Now proceed to look for the big bucks.
6. Don't even think you can step over that low hedge or fence, box in the supermarket aisle, or low-hanging rope divider. Yes, people do this! And maybe when you were 20 and in a hurry you could, too. But at this age, don't take that risk. It isn't worth it.
7. As soon as you get the walk sign, go! If the sign has started blinking, it's too late. Set out right away, so you never have to rush.
8. Don't run to catch the bus, catch your grandchild, or catch your dog. I've seen some of the fittest older adults suffer terrible accidents trying to run across the street, play Frisbee with their dog, or play hide-and-seek with their grandkids on snow and ice.
9. Be aware of stepladders. There it is, in that high cupboard: your favorite serving platter or baking dish. If you can't store it in a lower cupboard, then proceed with caution. Never take both hands off the ladder -- especially to change an overhead light bulb. Just say no. Invite a friend to help you. A free tip from a class participant who fell off her stepladder: If you live alone, wear a medical alert device. Seriously injured, she lay several hours on the floor before someone found her.
10. When you're feeling blue, call a friend. Being alone and isolated can increase your risk for a fall. When you remove yourself socially, stay at home more and more, your activity level drops dramatically, which leads to weaker muscles and depression. Get out with a friend and enjoy a cup of coffee together, or even better, sign up to take an exercise class together.
Remember, change begins with you. Take prevention seriously.
We all need to do the things that help us, help our family and friends move strong and reduce the risk for falls.
For more fall prevention safety tips, visit the CDC website.