Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterSummer 2011

Assess Your Risk of Falling

Many older adults worry about the possibility of falling, and with good reason.

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Among persons 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of death, and are also the most common causes of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.

While not all falls can be prevented, many can. Your doctor will regularly ask you about issues that put you at risk for falls. You can also talk with your health care team or e-mail your doctor at Group Health Medical Centers about any questions or concerns.

To prepare for that conversation, answer the following questions. The more "yes" answers, the greater your risk of taking a tumble and the more important it is that you talk with your doctor, pharmacist, or physical therapist.

Have you had any falls in the last six months?
If you have, tell your doctor and discuss possible reasons for your falls. If you have a fear of falling again, remember that lack of exercise is more likely to lead to another fall.

Have you tripped or slipped in your home?
Be sure to keep stairs and floors clear, use non-skid pads under rugs, install grab bars in the bathroom, and keep your home well-lit. For more tips on reducing falls around your house, see Making Your Home Safe.

Do you take four or more medications daily?
Have your doctor or pharmacist review everything you take, including over-the-counter medicines, at every visit and with each new prescription. Some medications can make you sleepy or dizzy, and taking them incorrectly compounds the problem.

Do you experience pain in your legs or feet?
See your doctor if you have pain, aching, soreness, stiffness, weakness, swelling, or numbness in your legs or feet. Any of these can lead to a fall.

Do you use your arms to get up from a chair?
That's a sign that you're weak or inflexible, which increases your likelihood of falling. Ask your doctor or a physical therapist about exercises to improve your flexibility, strength, and balance.

Do you ever feel weak, dizzy, or unsteady on your feet?
Ask your doctor or a physical therapist about ways to improve your strength and balance. Consider getting a walking stick or walker, and learn to use your walking aid correctly.

Has it been more than a year since your last eye exam?
Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. If you're wearing the wrong glasses or have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that limits your vision, you're more prone to falls.

Has your hearing gotten worse?
Have your hearing checked every two years. Hearing aids can improve balance.

Do you wear flimsy or ill-fitting shoes?
It's important to wear sturdy and supportive shoes. Athletic and canvas shoes are best for preventing falls, and are actually safer than going barefoot.

Are you concerned about your diet?
A good diet will improve your physical stamina and mental clarity, which can protect against falls. For more information about eating right, talk with your health care team or see our Nutrition and Healthy Eating section.

Do you exercise less than two days a week?
Exercise increases your strength, flexibility, mobility, and balance, and is one of the most important things you can do to lower your chances of falling. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about an exercise program that's tailored for you.

Do you drink alcohol daily?
As we get older, drinking alcohol may impair our gait and balance. A general guideline is no more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women.

Do you have more than three chronic health conditions, such as heart or lung problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, or arthritis?
Tell your doctor about any changes in your health as soon as possible. Any one of these can cause you to lose your balance.

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